Just what you always wanted! Another boring manual on the thermoforming process. So why did we do it? Mostly duress! There were some people that felt it would be useful to document some of the information I have accumulated over these many years and share it with you. Does this mean that this manual is a totally comprehensive document on everything there is to know about thermoforming? NO! However, it is a fairly good depiction of what this business is all about. To the best of my knowledge, I have refrained from uttering any falsehood regarding the various aspects of this industry. Hopefully the information contained within this manual will be helpful in getting a grasp on the thermoforming process and provide you with information that is useful in addressing some of the problems and situations that you may confront. Should this manual be used as the only authoritative document regarding thermoforming? NO! There are many excellent things written on the thermoforming process and many new developments and methods are being put forth all the time in this industry. However, I think you will find the information contained within this manual is based on tried and true empirically tested data. Should you be so inclined to seek a more explicit explanation on any of the information contained within this manual, we invite you to do so by calling 1-800-456-9402 or 219267-7127 at Spartech Plastics in Warsaw, Indiana and ask for Lee Boser. We will be happy to help you. Any republication of any of this material should be done through a request from the writer or Spartech Plastics.

Leroy M. Boser

Table of Contents

PREFACE ...........................................................................................................................i DESCRIPTION OF VACUUM FORMING......................................................................1 VACUUM FORMING TECHNIQUES ............................................................................1 1. DRAPE FORMING - BOTTOM (Figure 1.)......................................................1 2. DRAPE FORMING - TOP ...................................................................................4 3. PLUG ASSIST - BOTTOM (Figure 2.)...............................................................4 4. PLUG ASSIST - TOP ...........................................................................................6 5. SNAP BACK - TOP See figure 3. ........................................................................7 6. SNAP BACK - BOTTOM See figure 3................................................................9 7. BILLOW FORMING - FEMALE (BOTTOM) See figure 4. .............................10 8. BILLOW FORMING - FEMALE (TOP)............................................................12 9. BILLOW FORMING - MALE (BOTTOM).......................................................12 10. BILLOW FORMING - MALE (TOP) ...............................................................13 11. ZERO GRAVITY .............................................................................................13 12. PREBLOW PLUG ASSIST FORMING...........................................................15 13. TWIN SHEET FORMING (Figure 4.1) ...........................................................15 14. MATCHED-MOLD THERMOFORMING (Figure 4.2)..................................18 15. FREE FORMING OR BUBBLE FORMING ...................................................18 16. HAND FORMING............................................................................................20 DRAW RATIOS ..............................................................................................................21 IMPORTANT CONCERNS IN VACUUM FORMING.................................................26 PART DESIGN................................................................................................................26 SIZE .............................................................................................................................26 SHAPE.........................................................................................................................26 DRAFT ........................................................................................................................27 UNDERCUTS..............................................................................................................27 RADII...........................................................................................................................27 TEXTURE ...................................................................................................................28 COLOR, GLOSS and APPEARANCE .......................................................................29 PART INTEGRITY and FUNCTION .........................................................................29 TOLERANCES............................................................................................................30 SHRINKAGE...............................................................................................................32 ASSEMBLY and FABRICATION..............................................................................35 DESIGN PARAMETERS TO AVOID .......................................................................36 PRESSURE FORMING ..................................................................................................37 TOOL DESIGN ...............................................................................................................40 TYPES OF MOLDS ....................................................................................................40 MATERIALS AVAILABLE FOR MAKING MOLDS ..............................................41 WOOD .................................................................................................................41 POLYESTER or FIBERGLASS..........................................................................42 EPOXY TOOLING..............................................................................................43


........................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................50 PLATENS ........................................................................63 OPEN FLAME GAS......... ..........................................................89 ii ...83 BLSTERSI .................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................76 POLYCARBONATE/ABS.........................................................................................................72 PVC......................................................................................................................54 HEATING ELEMENTS .....................................................................................................................................78 CONDUCTIVES .........................................................................................86 THINNING .............................................................................79 WEATHERABLE MATERIALS .................70 POLYETHYLENE ............60 CATALYTIC GAS ....................................................................................................................................80 PETG.....88 LUMPS AND BUMPS.................................................. ......52 HEAT TYPES....................................................................................74 PVC/ACRYLIC ....................................................................................................................................61 QUARTZ HEATERS .............................................45 PROCESSING ...88 TEXTURE SEPARATION.....................................................................................................................................82 TROUBLE-SHOOTING..................................................................................................................................81 OTHER MATERIALS ............................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................Table of Contents ALUMINUM TEMPERATURE CONTROLLED TOOLING ..............................59 BLACK PANEL HEATERS ......................................................................87 SHEET PULLS OUT OF CLAMP FRAME..............................................................................64 PRE-DRYING MATERIAL.....................................................................62 NICHROME WIRE ....................................71 POYLPROPYLENE ..........................................................88 TEXTURE WASHOUT...................................................................................................................................74 POLYCARBONATE........67 MATERIALS............................................................70 HIPS ............................67 CYCLES .....................................................................................................................................86 DISCOLORATION ...................................................................43 COMMENTS ON TOOLING........51 FORMING OVENS.........................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................87 WEBBING OR BRIDGING .......64 SCREENING .......................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................49 EQUIPMENT FUNCTION ....................................................................................................73 PVC/ABS...............................................................55 CALROD ..................................77 TPO ............................................................................................................63 AIR CONVECTION OVENS.............................71 ABS.......55 CERAMIC ELEMENTS....................50 CLAMP FRAMES................................69 POLYSTYRENE ... ...................................................................................................

......97 SAG LEVELS VARY FROM SHEET TO SHEET...........................................100 GLOSSARY OF TERMS .......105 INDEX .......................................................... ............99 FURROWS OR LINES IN THE PART........................................................................................................................................................... .................................................................................97 SHEET WHITENING..................... .............91 POOR SURFACE FINISH ON PART.......................................98 PART CRACKS DURING SERVICE LIFE..............................................................................................96 PLASTIC SHEET STICKS TO THE PLUG........................................................... ...95 DIFFICULT TO REMOVE PART OFF THE MOLD.............................99 PLASTIC TEARS DURING HEATING OR FORMING...................................................................................................... ...................................99 SUMMARY.Table of Contents SHEET WON’T FIT INTO CLAMP FRAME................ ...................................................................... ............................................90 WARPED PARTS.......92 CHILL MARKS.......96 SHEET TEARS DURING FORMING...........................................93 DIMPLES ON MOLD SIDE OF PARTS...................................................... ............................................................................................... ..........................................................89 BLOTCHY LOOK ON THE TEXTURE SIDE OF AMORPHOUS MATERIALS...........................97 BILLOW HEIGHT OR DEPTH IS VARYING........93 COLOR LOSS OR STRESS WHITENING OR BLUSHING................... ...............................................................95 SHRINK MARKS ON FORMED PART.95 LOSS OF VACUUM SEAL.......................................................................................................................................................90 POOR DETAIL ON PART...............95 THIN CORNERS ON THE FORMED PART........................................................................ ...... .............................89 INCONSISTENT PART...................................................................... ...............97 EXCESSIVE SHEET SAG............................................................................118 iii ...............................................................................93 POOR MATERIAL DISTRIBUTION AND/OR EXCESSIVE THINNING IN SPECIFIC AREAS......95 EXCESSIVE SHRINKAGE AFTER PART IS REMOVED FROM THE MOLD.............89 FLOW LINES ON PART................................................................................................................................................ .............................................................98 PARTS ARE BRITTLE.................................................94 SHINY STREAKS ON PART.................... ............................................... .................................................................................. ......................................................89 BLOTCHY LOOK ON THE TEXTURE SIDE OF OLEFIN MATERIALS.............98 FLAT SURFACE OF A PART NOT FLAT.....................................

a 1 . This is quite simple and anyone can do it with very little capital investment. Second. but there are also some limitations as to what you can do. all of this is necessary to get the job done. The type of technique you choose will be determined by the geometry and shape of the part you are trying to make. heating the plastic sheet up to a desired temperature. and what your equipment is capable of doing. DRAPE FORMING .BOTTOM is clamping a piece of sheet plastic in some type of clamping mechanism. mold costs are dramatically reduced. And fourth. Pulling this heated plastic over a mold is going to stretch the hot plastic unevenly causing thinning and weak spots in various areas. As one might imagine. I would like to address each one individually by describing it and explaining why you would use each of these techniques. stretching the heated sheet of plastic over a mold. Following this process will allow the plastic to assume the shape of the mold surface.) Essentially DRAPE FORMING .BOTTOM (Figure 1. we can prototype small runs economically compared to other processes. trapping the sheet just inside the clamping mechanism over the edge of the mold flange.DESCRIPTION OF VACUUM FORMING Simply stated. vacuum forming is the process of taking a flat sheet of plastic and changing it into a contoured shape. this is a versatile process and you can make a wide variety of parts this way. VACUUM FORMING TECHNIQUES There are many different thermoforming techniques that one can employ in the thermoforming process. retracting it from the oven. along with the degree of difficulty of the part. and applying a vacuum to the mold chamber. All one needs to do is acquire a basic heating oven. This is accomplished by putting a piece of plastic into some type of clamping mechanism. and removing the air from within the mold cavity. sealing the heated plastic sheet on the edge of the mold base. First. draping it over a mold. we can make large parts more economically than most other methods. why would anyone persist in doing vacuum forming? The simple fact is that vacuum forming has some very big advantages over injection molding and also over other plastic forming processes. depending on the shape of the mold and the forming technique you use. These and other issues will be dealt with in more detail later but for now. Is that a mouthful or what? Well. in some cases by 90%. 1. we can get into the vacuum forming business quite easily without extensive capital costs. Third. putting this material into a heating oven. In light of these facts and because injection molding does not have many of these restrictions. thereby through atmospheric pressure. forcing the material up against the mold surface. I would like to address the various methods and techniques employed in the vacuum forming process. heating the sheet up to a forming temperature.

2 .

it will sag somewhat in the clamp frame due to the thermal expansion properties of plastic. the surface of the sheet will cool off very quickly so you do not have much time to actually form the material. This phenomenon will also occur on the surface side that is exposed to the air but at a much slower rate. Second. This may be cosmetically unacceptable and other techniques may have to be employed to overcome this. you can produce parts via this method quite economically. However. As the sheet reaches approximate forming temperatures. First. After a few minutes. This makes the plastic considerably harder in these areas. you have no choice in doing this. the actual softening of the plastic. Also the actual surface of the plastic will be slightly hotter than the interior of the sheet. As you stretch the hot plastic over the mold and trap the edges next to the clamp frame to the mold flange. This will also cause the thinning to be uneven and the texture may appear different on various areas of the part. usually only seconds. thereby thinning those areas more readily. At that point it can be removed from the mold and the excess trim removed to take on the dimensions of the designed part. This happens because the clamping mechanism acts somewhat as a heat sink and drafts in the oven or defective heating elements cause further heating disparities. this technique is not capable of producing parts that are very complicated. Third. and when you apply the vacuum to stretch the material over the rest of the mold. Generally speaking there are some drawbacks to this technique in molding. Secondly. the plastic will stretch more easily from the hotter areas. When you remove the plastic from the oven. almost anyone can get into this business using this technique. This will be addressed later in the trouble-shooting section. you are very likely to have chill marks on various areas on the part. However. any part that is a little more complicated could end up with some thinning in some areas that are not acceptable. you are going to have a lot of competitors and price pressures will be severe. you further thin out the plastic. As I indicated earlier. It is probably the most economical thermoforming method we can use. and sheer gravity overcoming the hot strength of the plastic. Finally the vacuum is applied to force the rest of the plastic up against the mold to chill it. First. Next you actually drape the hot plastic sheet over the mold. the plastic contacting the mold will chill enough to be below its heat distortion point. the sheet reaches a forming temperature but it ends up with a slightly uneven heat. Wherever the plastic touches the mold is essentially where it ends up. Consequently.rudimentary vacuum system and construct a mold out of any one of a number of inexpensive materials such as wood and you are in business. Basically what happens when you heat the sheet up in the oven. as you need to get a seal around the mold flange to be able to apply the vacuum. the other side of the equation shows that there are some quite beneficial aspects to this technique. This causes the plastic that touches the mold to cool very abruptly and freeze onto the mold surface wherever it actually touches the mold. This chilling may be 50° to 100° F on the areas that touch the mold on the mold surface side in just a matter of seconds. the parts produced via this method are normally totally acceptable for the application they are 3 . You just do not have any control to move the plastic around to other areas of the part.

as with most vacuum forming techniques.BOTTOM except for one important difference. However. DRAPE FORMING . ribbed cavities. In this instance. you may also have a little less stretching and thinning than the previous technique.bottom. remove it from the oven and drape it over the mold. but it also likely to require less engineering work to get the whole thing designed and produced. The technique is exactly the same but the results are slightly different. Because you can heat the sheet a little hotter and get a little more sag. the plastic sheet is heated in the oven and when it reaches forming temperature. you will note a very subtle difference. You are dropping the mold into the sag of the material. just before applying the vacuum.BOTTOM (Figure 2. The first thing you will realize is that you are going to have to have some kind of a superstructure support system to suspend your mold from. If you have a part that is not very difficult and has a relatively easy draw ratio (term to be defined later). you push the hot plastic into various pockets. 2. you can make multiple parts on one mold. not only is it likely to be the most economical technique. if you have a choice. 4 . If you are using a male mold. and steep walled sections via a plug assist to move the extra plastic down into these areas. it sags just as before but the direction of the sag is away from the mold.BOTTOM up until just before applying the vacuum. This allows you to apply the vacuum slightly sooner during the forming process and does not normally produce as many chill marks as the drape forming . In many cases these parts will be quite different from one another. PLUG ASSIST . 3. Here is basically how it works. you heat the sheet. At this point.being used even though they may have some cosmetic deficiencies. The purpose of this technique is to allow extra plastic to be moved toward the bottom of these areas before it is thinned out. All in all. As before. And fourth. This is called a platen and is capable of moving up and down via some type of pneumatic or mechanical system mounted to some type of solid framework. DRAPE FORMING . it does not require highly trained personnel to produce parts by this technique.BOTTOM forming is very similar to DRAPE FORMING .TOP If you look at figure 1. As before. the clamping mechanism that clamps in the plastic sheet is usually supported on a trolley system that can be moved into or retracted from the oven. it is removed from the oven on the trolley and positioned underneath the suspended mold.) PLUG ASSIST .bottom technique. When you remove the heated sheet from the oven. This would vary depending on the complexity of the parts and the general size that the vacuum forming machine is capable of handling. Everything happens in the exact sequence as in DRAPE FORMING . A lot of this depends on the mold design. this is probably the best method you could select provided the part geometry allows you to use this technique. Third.TOP is just like DRAPE FORMING BOTTOM except it is upside down. the mold shape relative to the mold flange does not touch the heated plastic quite as soon as it does in using drape forming .

5 .

As you might imagine. PLUG ASSIST . You are just redistributing the available plastic a little more uniformly. What you are essentially doing is taking a little of the plastic that would have been formed unto the upper vertical walled area. The plug is constructed in such a way that the surface area of the plug will move the maximum amount of hot plastic down into a cavity. Typically the plastic sheet is mounted into a clamping mechanism and placed on a trolley that can be moved into and out of the heating oven. This will be dictated by the geometry of the mold.TOP is just like PLUG ASSIST . 4. and moving it down to the bottom of the cavity and the bottom vertical walled area before the vacuum can be applied. Second. PLUG ASSIST . the amount and severity of the chill marks you experience will be lessened and thirdly. You must also be able to control how far up and down both of these platens go to prevent them from smashing into each other. First. Thus the amount of clearance the plug has in relationship to the vertical mold wall is important. See figure 2. The accuracy point that the clamping mechanism stops when you retract it from the oven is important because you will need to get a good seal around the clamping mechanism relative to the mold flange. This will require the trolley to stop in the same position each time. Since the mold is mounted unto the top platen. This prevents the material from picking up plug marks when the plastic is in the hot state. The depth the plug goes into the cavity is also important. the way the plug is constructed and the depth that it is inserted into the cavity are important. The reason this is so is because you only have so much plastic to work with over any given area of the mold as you are stretching the hot plastic over the mold surface. Thus you will need some kind of a machine with both a top and bottom platen to mount the mold and the opposing plug unto.BOTTOM except that it is upside down and just as in DRAPE FORMING. This stopping point is also important in getting the plug to contact the plastic relative to the mold position each time in order to insure consistent material distribution on the part. Another consideration is the way the technique is employed. This again allows you to push the mold 6 . it will be necessary for both the bottom and top platen to move up and down. you will get better distribution of material and therefore less thinning. and covered with a soft cloth material. It should be obvious that this technique would be difficult to employ manually.TOP As was the case in DRAPE FORMING. The mold will be mounted onto the bottom platen and the plug will be mounted onto the top platen. reversing these positions changes the outcome of the forming results and changes what you can accomplish. This can affect how the material is distributed and where chill marks may appear depending on the shape of the mold. The advantages to this technique over the previous ones should be obvious. Finally it should be noted that it is possible to move one or both of the platens that support the mold and plug assist together to control which of these touches the hot plastic first. As a slight variation to the previous technique. such as felt. the sag of the hot plastic as it is removed from the oven is away from the mold and towards the plug assist. Again you will note a subtle difference. the complexity of the part you can make will be increased. such as wood.A plug is constructed out of some insulate material.

Then a vacuum is slowly applied to the vacuum box and the sheet is pulled down into it causing a hemisphere shape to form. Then the mold on the top platen is lowered into the hemispheric shape of the sheet in the vacuum box until the flange of the mold compresses the trapped sheet between the vacuum box and the mold flange. hence the term “snapback”. As you might imagine.into the natural sag of the material and get a little better material distribution. There are many instances when employing this technique would be the difference of getting a good part as opposed to an acceptable one. The machine is cycled in such a manner as to automatically discontinue the vacuum in the vacuum box when the mold is extended into the bubble. In this technique. At this point the vacuum is turned off in the vacuum box and a vacuum is applied to the mold chamber. This technique is considerably different than the four previous techniques. 5. This happens because the plastic does not freeze unto the mold quite as quickly. How does the technique work? After the plastic sheet has been properly heated in the oven.TOP See figure 3.TOP method. 7 . it is retracted and brought into the forming station. Attached to the bottom platen is a vacuum box that is nothing more than a box that has outside dimensions the same as the outside dimensions of the mold flange. Next the bottom platen that has the vacuum box on it is raised up through the clamp frame and the vacuum box creates a seal against the sheet. you push the plug through the hot plastic causing a tenting effect that will keep the material from touching the mold quite as soon and allow you to distribute the plastic better in the cavity areas. Attached to the top platen is the mold in an upside down position. The depth that the bubble draws down into the vacuum box is either controlled by an electric eye in the vacuum box or by timing how quickly we remove the air from the vacuum box. In other words. This causes the sheet to snap up against the mold surface. SNAP BACK . the sheet thins down to about half of its original thickness. It also allows you to do one extra thing that can be significant. This is in conjunction with how quickly we insert the mold into the bubble created in the vacuum box. This technique is probably the most ignored technique in vacuum forming. The box has a depth of a few inches deeper than the height of the mold itself. the material is clamped into a clamping mechanism and supported on a trolley system similar to the PLUG ASSIST . both of these platens must be able to move up and down freely and must have a mechanism that is able to control how far they go up or down to prevent them from crashing into each other. This creates a draw ratio on the sheet material of approximately 2 to 1. Then the vacuum box is dropped away from the mold to allow the plastic to cool on the mold. It also may or may not be contoured to roughly match the shape of the mold. If you bring the bottom platen up first.

8 .

So why don’t we use snapback for all parts? Well. this technique is exactly like “Snap back . This indeed happens. Any small change in heating stability of the elements in the oven or any drafts through the oven may cause the sheet to be hotter in one area as opposed to another thereby resulting in non-uniform bubbles in the vacuum box. As you might imagine. it freezes on that spot and no longer thins on the frozen area. SNAP BACK . it does not have to stretch as far in the remaining portions of the mold that have not touched the sheet yet. Since the hemispheric shape more closely approximates the shape of the mold. If the part is quite difficult. However. As you may realize. there really isn’t a good reason except some people find it easier to work with the mold on the bottom platen and find it beneficial to have the bubble settle unto the mold. on occasion. This can also. it will be hard to control the predraw depth in the vacuum box and get them all to be uniform. it does continue to thin in the remaining areas until all of the mold surface area is covered. If you again imagine the above procedure. this becomes more difficult as the complexity of the part increases. you are uniformly stretching this material that more closely approximates the shape of the mold than by normal drape or plug assist forming. you will probably come to the conclusion that the material distribution of the part on the mold will be better. A second reason for using this technique is the amount of material you may need to make the part. 6.Why would anyone want to go through all of this to make a part? Well. One can also make multiple cavity molds for the snapback process but it is necessary to think this out carefully. This is especially true on the cooling cycle time.BOTTOM See figure 3. They also find it easier to observe the bubble being pulled up into the vacuum box. improve the cycle time required to make the part. the simple fact is that this technique is a bit more complicated and does require more time for a set-up. it makes good sense to go for simplicity. Then when you snap the material back unto the” except the mold and vacuum box are reversed and mounted to opposite platens. 9 . As you might imagine. why do it? Well. less thinning needs to occur and the part thickness is more uniform. This leads us to addressing technique number six. there are some definite benefits. It also requires a better set-up man and a better machine operator to run these parts. As you predraw the material into the vacuum box. It can be shown through a draw ratio mathematical formulation that the thickness of the starting sheet can sometimes be reduced or the length and width dimension of the starting sheet can be reduced by using this technique. So if it is the same. This is especially true when you run a rotary machine that has a high frame set-up. If one of the other simpler methods does the job. once hot plastic sheet touches the mold.

It is also sometimes necessary to drive the vacuum box through the heated plastic sheet a little further to insure a good seal and get the bubble to pull up into the vacuum box consistently in regards to time. the hot plastic will billow around the plug in a fashion that is highly dependent upon how fast you bleed the air out of the mold cavity or how fast you extend the plug. Then we put a plug assist in the top platen that roughly conforms to the contour of the female cavity of the mold in the bottom platen. This can either be done automatically with the thermoforming machine or by manually bleeding a valve through the external wall of the mold. 10 . Typically it is much better to bleed off the air manually as opposed to automatically by machine as a machine cannot exhibit any judgment if processing conditions change slightly. we send the female mold in the bottom platen up through the sheet to make a good seal all around the clamp frame. It should be obvious by now that this is a complicated thermoforming process and requires a pretty accurate set-up and a high degree of timing during the extension of the plug assist and the evacuation of the air from the mold cavity. Now we are getting into some complex thermoforming procedures. it is also obvious that if you bleed off the air manually. Let me describe the first of these. BILLOW FORMING .FEMALE (BOTTOM). we start exhausting the air out of the mold cavity. There is one definite benefit in employing this method if the part is a little smaller. Basically what happens is we place a female mold in the bottom platen of the vacuumforming machine. This will allow you to delay the platen that the mold is attached to and slightly increase your processing window with the actual snapping of the material onto the mold. When the sheet is properly located in the forming station. To hold the sheet. we start extending the plug assist from the top platen. 7. As you can imagine. as you extend this plug further and further into the mold cavity.FEMALE (BOTTOM) See figure 4. the operator will have to exhibit a good deal of judgment and will have to be a pretty good operator. The bubble will be draped away from the vacuum box and take slightly longer to vacuum up into it. As the plug assist starts penetrating the hot plastic bubble formed over the female mold cavity. These techniques can only be done on a limited number of thermoforming machines and will require some well-trained people to implement these processes. namely BILLOW FORMING . we use the same type of clamp frame and trolley system we used for snap-back bottom or top. Then we blow air through the vacuum holes in the female mold to form a bubble over the cavity of the female mold.However. This will also affect the hot plastic material distribution around the plug and how it is distributed against the female cavity of the mold when you finally employ the vacuum. However. Next we send the sheet into the oven to heat it up and retract it when it is properly heated. When the bubble reaches this maximum desired height. This bubble is extended until it trips the light beam of and electric eye set at a specific desired height. setting it up this way does require you to take greater care in lining up the clamp frames with more uniform spacing between the clamp frame itself and the outside edge of the vacuum box.

11 .

As one might imagine. it is proper to do this manually or automatically with the machine but the manual method as in “ billow forming . Essentially what we are doing is putting a billow blowing contoured box on the top platen and the male mold on the bottom platen.female bottom” except the mold and the plug are reversed on the platens. BILLOW FORMING . Both techniques will work equally as well on any given part that requires this process. Again. And fifth. The big minus is it is harder to see what is going on when you are evacuating the air out of the bubble so it becomes necessary for the operator to have a better “touch”. it is easier to blow the bubble in this position as you are already using the natural sag of the material. When the bubble billows out the proper amount. we start bleeding off the air in the bubble to prevent it from bursting and to distribute the plastic around the male tool as it is extending into the bubble.So what are the benefits of going through all this misery? Well. Then we blow a bubble that extends downward until it goes down the proper distance where it will trip the electric eye and hold the bubble in that position. 8.female top” is just like “billow forming . Secondly.female” affords a little more control. The plus for doing it this way as opposed to” billow forming . Secondly. it is easier to adjust the plug. which is critical in this process. 9. we send the billow box down to make a seal all around the clamping area. Fourth.female bottom”. Thirdly. This would be similar to poking your finger into a blown up balloon and letting the balloon wall envelop your finger. for one thing these techniques afford the best material distribution you could expect to get with the vacuum forming process. When the bubble is extended to the proper place. the results are equivalent. Again. as an experienced operator would exercise good judgment as the mold is extended. the trolley moves the heated sheet out into the forming area. BILLOW FORMING .female bottom” is just personal preference. It is very common to get draw ratios of five to one. It is generally necessary to miter the corners of the billow 12 . these techniques allow you to put the most severe draw ratio on the hot plastic material you can hope to get without actually pulling a hole in the material. As before. this technique allows you to form the most difficult female parts that can be done with the vacuum forming process. There are parts that can only be formed properly by using this technique. we send the male mold up into the bubble where it will start to billow out the bubble because of the trapped air.” billow forming . Third. these techniques allow you to get the most uniform material distribution over the large area of a complex part you could expect. we use the same type clamp frame as in the techniques above and send the material into the oven to be heated to the proper temperature. to hold the sheet. However.MALE (BOTTOM) This technique is just a role reversal of “billow forming . this will require the billow box to be somewhat contoured to fit the mold or you are likely to get webbing in the corner areas. and fourth the material doesn’t chill as quickly on the mold flange. this particular technique allows you to pull a pretty uniform grain throughout the entire part. When the sheet is properly located in the forming station.FEMALE (TOP) Again.

“billow forming . 10.male bottom” except the billow box is on the bottom platen and the male mold is on the top platen. ZERO GRAVITY Now there’s a real trick without being in outer space. I’m just the writer describing of the technique.male bottom.” this is a complicated thermoforming process. I just don’t see any advantage of doing it this way except personal preference. BILLOW FORMING . When demolding. This clamp frame has a sealing mechanism on the bottom of it that seals over the hole in the top of the box that the mold 13 . primarily when we design the billow box. this may be the only way to manufacture it and to prevent the serious chill marks that result in making just such a part. Maybe so.male top” is just the same as “Billow forming . This allows us to feed this material around the mold and the horizontal flange of the part so we can get more material in these areas. It requires just as accurate of a set-up and just as accurate timing when the mold is being injected into the billow bubble and you are bleeding the air out of the bubble as we did in the “billow forming . we usually make it with a fair amount of flange space on the periphery of the billow box so we have extra material to work with. This somewhat improperly described technique requires a whole new type of thermoforming machine and is very popular in Europe. This especially allows us to get better flanges than we could obtain with snap back. When the mold is all the way extended. Just the reverse of “billow forming . The results are the same. 11. the vacuum comes on and pushes the material tightly against the mold where it is cooled to hold the shape of the mold. In some cases where the part is taller than it is just as you might in running the “snap back” technique when the part has a square or rectangular geometry. As we noted in “billow forming .” And for the life of me. these parts usually require a delicate coaxing with the air eject to get them off the mold. So why not just use snap back and avoid all this extra trouble.female bottom” technique. We are also better able to control the gauge of the material on the top of the mold. So there are some definite benefits in going through this extra trouble. On this platen you mount a standard male vacuum-forming mold that is capable of protruding out of a hole in the top of the box. Essentially what you need is a machine that has a bottom platen that is contained within an enclosed box that you can inject a mild amount of air pressure. Well. On a frame that merely goes up and down via some mechanism on the side of the machine (essentially a top platen). I guess that some people may feel that you are better able to observe what is going on with the billow.MALE (TOP) As you might have guessed by now. you mount a clamp frame similar to the ones in the above techniques.female bottom. Obviously it is necessary to have an experienced operator to run this technique and a good set-up man to properly align the mold and billow box before starting your run.

All in all. When the bubble is just the right height. by time. the air is turned off and the vacuum is applied to the mold. Well. usually very slowly. Here is basically what happens in the process. The plastic is heated to the proper temperature and then the ovens are rolled away from the heated sheet. This can get expensive. Hence we get the name zero gravity as the blown bubble merely floats above the mold until the air is released and the vacuum is applied. the bad. And then there is the problem of heating elements breaking more frequently on a moving oven. you are less likely to need some kind of plug assist to prevent the part from webbing. You have to go through the entire process of enclosing and sealing the mold in the pressure box and then making sure the seals on the pressure box and the clamp frames don’t leak. what are the bads? The most glaring is the amount of set up time it takes to get going. The hole can be sealed over by lowering the clamp frame and pressing it against a seal ring on the top of the box. You will have to use a pneumatically activated plug that is external to the normal machine operation. Next the clamp frame is lowered over the seal on the enclosed box with the mold in it. Secondly. At this point the proper amount of air pressure is injected into the enclosed box and the plastic sheet rises up in a standard billow bubble. When the part is cool enough. Because the mold is trapped inside the box. on materials that have very sharp melt points. it is more difficult to apply a plug assist to prevent contained within. the mold from inside the pressure box is extended up into the bubble. A movable top and bottom oven is rolled out over and under the clamp frame with the plastic sheet in it. However. if the part does have a propensity for webbing. you can hold the top oven over the sheet through the actual forming of the part if the part isn’t too tall and doesn’t hit the oven elements. a seal is made around the edge of the mold base. and the uglys in this process? Well. You also have to have a method of adjusting the size of hole that the mold protrudes through on the top of the pressure box. 14 . A sharp melt index will cause a plastic to be too stiff to form at a certain temperature and too soft to form at a slightly higher temperature. or by an electric eye at the side of the machine. the air eject is very efficient and difficult parts can be demolded quite easily as the seal is actually under the clamp frame. This can be either controlled manually. When the mold is fully extended. the bubble is allowed to settle over the mold. by vacuuming the part very slowly. So what are the good. the first thing that should be apparent is chill marks are virtually eliminated as the material has no way of freezing on the mold and chilling off. This is especially useful in forming some homopolymer polypropylene parts where the melt index is very sharp. Actually nothing but the flange of the mold has touched the plastic until the vacuum was activated. Third. I have seen some very difficult parts with sharp melt indexes made this way with excellent results. this technique has some extremely good features but it has not caught on in the United States where speed seems to rule. the air eject is turned on and the part is demolded.

Then the mold is quickly brought up again while the plug is simultaneously plunged into the mold cavity. This is what is shown in figure 4. Next a bubble is blown that is usually quite extensive and exaggerated that practically conforms to the female cavity of the mold below. This allows for an intense prestretch of hot plastic sheet without cooling it off significantly. Also. Normally a part of this nature should be formed using the “billow forming . So what’s the point? Well one would be surprised at the uniformity of the mold wall and the uniformity and extra grain detail you are able to get because the material does not cool off as much before it hits the mold surface. As you might imagine. Let us describe both processes. this may be the solution. two pieces of plastic are put into two clamp frames that are separated by some type of spacer block. TWIN SHEET FORMING (Figure 4. 13.1. the sheet is clamped into a clamp frame and run into the oven to be properly heated. This would require you to push them down into the cavity and chill them off and get a wall thickness that is less uniform. Here is how it works. this whole process occurs in just three or four seconds so the sheet does not have enough time to cool off. You have a deep draw female textured mold in the bottom platen and an insulated plug inside a pressure box on the top platen. As in the above techniques. Then the vacuum is turned on and the air in the pressure box is activated to force the material up against the mold walls.1) There are really two types of twin sheet forming processes. In the case of the single station set-up. usually to the hot side. some materials have very good hot strength and do not sag much no matter how hot you get them until you actually scorch them. PREBLOW PLUG ASSIST FORMING Here is a system that is used rarely and usually only in conjunction with pressure forming. Within this spacer block is an air ejector pin that allows you to inject a small amount of air between the two sheets of plastic to 15 .female bottom” technique but the dwell time on the plug is just to long to keep it from chilling the plastic and getting any grain detail on the part. If you are trying to make a part in a female textured mold that has a very large draw ratio and you are having difficulty keeping the material from chilling before it contacts the mold surface. The other is using a four station rotary thermoformer with a double oven. Then it is brought out and the bottom platen is elevated until it seals off around the clamp frame and the mold.12. One type uses a single-station vacuum-forming machine with a double clamp frame set up. At this point the mold is lowered slightly to allow the seal to break and the bubble to drop down into the female cavity below. this is a little used technique and people usually try hard to avoid it as most thermoforming machines are not wired to use it. As I said.

16 .

When the first sheet is heated to the proper forming temperature. The reasons are simple. you can make parts that are stronger structurally. It is even possible to make kiss-offs in the part that really adds to durability and structural integrity. they are fused together and you have a twin sheet part. The second method of twin sheet forming is the four station rotary operation. After the sheet is heated up. timing is everything. In the interim. A couple of things should occur to you immediately. The whole process is tricky. it is retracted from the oven and brought into the forming area. The second sheet now is in the second heating oven. Then the next sheet is loaded into the second station while the first sheet is being partially heated. it is cycled around to the forming station and the top mold on the top platen comes down to form the second sheet. Then the first sheet is cycled into the second oven and the second sheet is cycled into the first oven. Also. At this point it is worth noting that these molds are almost always female. After the parts are cooled. Air conditioner supports come to mind. Secondly. the bottom platen with the bottom mold and formed part is extended to smash together with the top platen that contains the mold with the formed part. The two platens are closed and the heated sheets are drawn into their respective cavities. Then the clamp frame is opened up and the mold is retracted. Anyway. it is cycled into the forming station. a blast of air is blown through the air injector pin to prevent a vacuum chamber being established in the cavity between the mold. when the two hot plastic sheets meet. The sheet is loaded into the first station and it is run into the first oven to start the heating process. if necessary. This type of thermoformer is equipped with two heating ovens but does not require a double clamp frame. The clamping pressure is finite and we can control how closely we bring the platens together. The sheets are then placed into the oven to be heated to an acceptable forming temperature. Oven settings are critical and staggering the cycles with the proper timing is a must. It is crucial to get the first sheet out of the oven when it has reached its forming temperature and also get the second sheet out when it has reached the proper forming temperature. When the first sheet gets to the forming station. although it is possible that one would be female and one would be male if the male mold wasn’t too prominent. As you might imagine.keep the sheets separate during the heating cycle. First of all you can make an enclosed chamber similar to roto-molding. First of all. you will not be able to heat two different sheets that have too much disparity in sheet thickness because you would have to have one of the oven sides considerably hotter than the other does. Obviously this eliminates single sided heating. we’re not going to break your machine. This is going to extend the heating cycle and is going to give you less control of actually heating the sheet. you can only heat one side of each of the sheets. This type of twin sheet forming is usually done with amorphous plastic materials that will not stick together unless the plastic is quite hot. Don’t worry. but there are a 17 . This technique has been gaining in popularity lately. When the second sheet reaches forming temperature. Here is what happens. the mold on the bottom platen comes up and the sheet is formed onto this mold. As the vacuum is being applied. the platens are separated and the air injector pin is retracted from the part and the part is removed from both clamp frames.

First we heat up a plastic sheet somewhere above the glass transition temperature point. 14. one male and one female. This process has revolutionized the production of plastic pallets. Typically one of the molds may have a rubber coating to prevent breaking one of the molds if they were not properly aligned. the vacuum or air is shut off to the solenoid valve by tripping the light beam from the photocell by virtue of the bubble or billow breaking this beam. To alleviate this problem. the plastic automatically looses some of its transparency. and trap a heated plastic sheet between them. Whenever a clear plastic touches a mold. The trunk liners in your car are typically done this way. It is necessary to have some venting holes to let the trapped air escape. these molds will usually have locator pins that are in place during the set-up. However. To prevent this. Obviously it will be important to have the two molds match well. This process is quite popular in the automotive industry where carpet material is laminated to a plastic substrate. Secondly. 18 . Again we can see some impediments and limitations. Set-up can be a real challenge in this process. the plastic is placed into a clamp frame and heated up inside an oven. FREE FORMING OR BUBBLE FORMING This is a process that is used for a lot of clear plastics. MATCHED-MOLD THERMOFORMING (Figure 4. Then the sheet is removed from the oven and sealed over a vacuum or billow box. It is not mandatory to have a vacuum system to employ this method of thermoforming. It is not necessary to heat this sheet up to the temperature required for a single sided mold. the success of this process is really obvious when you witness the amount of new parts being made this way. To do this.lot of fantastic parts being made this way. a former may elect to blow a billow or draw a bubble into a vacuum box and let the material cool into the resultant shape. Common sense will tell you that if the molds are not aligned almost perfectly. Then we retract the plastic from the oven and place it between the two matched molds. Next vacuum is applied to draw the bubble into the box or air is blown into the billow box to produce a bubble over the box. you don’t get this equipment at the “five and dime. It is going to be difficult to run sheets that are not the same thickness or you will throw your whole cycle out of whack. When the bubble or billow has reached the desired depth or height. Next we close the platens with some force and allow the plastic to take the shape of the cavity between the two molds. Essentially what happens is we get two identically matched molds. although occasionally some formers do. 15.” It is expensive and it takes good people to set it up and run it.2) Matched-mold Thermoforming is a little different than other methods of thermoforming. your finished parts will be too thick or too thin in some areas and probably unusable. but if you want to pick up good detail for lettering or texturing you may want to do so.

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The mold is designed in such a way that the edges have a raised piece that extends above the plain of the mold and provides a seal for the hot plastic sheet. All that is needed is an oven and a mold attached to a vacuum system. HAND FORMING Here is an often neglected thermoforming technique. It may be just a matter of minutes as opposed to an hour and you don’t have your machine tied up for just a few parts. as we said earlier. Even if you designed a very complicated articulated clamp frame. This process is used extensively to make skylights and clear signs. 16. In most cases. So why would you want to go through all this trouble if you could just let the machine do all the work? Well. This may be your best alternative. this process is helped along a bit by having cooling fans blowing air unto the cooling part. This technique does not require a forming machine in the same sense as the above techniques. This technique allowed you get a very uniform material thickness on the finished part. Plastic shells for body casts are almost always made this way. When the plastic has been heated to its proper temperature. The largest forming job I have ever been around was done by wrapping a vinyl foam. This was done with a substrate thickness that was considerably less than it would have been if it were done with a forming machine. Hopefully you are using insulated heat gloves. Some parts have an extremely low volume and a hand-forming situation may be the best alternative. 20 . The process was efficient and produced a high quality part. Let me give you some examples. Let me describe the technique to you. substrate laminate sheet around a console mold. Then the pliable hot plastic sheet is draped or wrapped around the mold and the vacuum is turned on to force the hot plastic against the mold. it is retracted from the oven or conveyor belt and released from the clamping mechanism or picked off the conveyor belt by hand. It would be extremely difficult to form a full body cast without getting some serious thinning in various parts of the cast. the bubble or billow is allowed to cool in the air. Anytime it is necessary to get high grade optical clarity in a part. in some cases this is the only thing that makes sense. In some cases it is the only thing that makes sense. you would not be able to get the same dexterity you could accomplish by using a manual method. We all have forming jobs that we wish we didn’t have but we need to do them because we have to humor a customer that provides us with a lot of good parts to do. it is likely that you will need to employ this technique to make the part. So give it some thought.Finally. It is much easier to drag out a mold that is attached to a forming stand and connect it to a vacuum line than it is to set the same mold in a forming machine and adjust all the clamp frames. A piece of plastic is either hung on a clamping mechanism from one of its four sides or placed on a flat tray or conveyor system and placed into the oven.


22 .

However. since we now have to cover the flange of the mold inside the vacuum box. In most cases. width. The real savings would come in the quality of the end part and the fact that the part made by the snapback process would require less than half the time to make and therefore would save a considerable amount of money in machine time. See figure 6.following through the formula we get 2 x 10 (10 +10) / (10 x 10) + 1 or 4 + 1 = 5. Two times 10(10 + 10)/15 x15 (available material) + 1 gives you a draw ratio of 2. we find that the height. This is because the mold is 10 inches high. you would need a sheet that has a dimension of 14” x 14” x. it should be noted that this would most likely save a small amount of material that will be needed to make the part.5” x18. In the above example on the female mold. It is important to understand this concept to properly select the thermoforming process that will enable you to get the best part you can get.71 pounds in ABS. the part has a protrusion or pocket or depressions in it that will create a secondary draw ratio that will cause the part to be thinner in this area. As a sidelight. let us set up a rule that is quite useful to follow in the snapback process. Usually a good option to female drape forming when the draw ratio is too great is to redesign the part around the snapback process.278 thick and would weigh 3. For every four inches of height on the mold. It should be noted that one of the objectives of thermoforming design is to keep the draw ratio of a part under 3 to 1 if it is possible. this is not practical so we have to look for other options. This is a significant amount of more material to work with. As I indicated. This is not a substantial amount but it is something. namely a 5 to 1 draw ratio. Again as stated above. you need to build a vacuum box that has a minimum clearance of two and one-half inches from the vertical mold wall and the inside of the vacuum box. This is indeed what we are doing with the above formula. Then we divide it by this inside dimension. or 100 square inches. (that is.78 to 1. available material). Before we actually do this. and length of the mold are still the same. 23 . to 15 inches by 15 inches or 225 square inches.61 pounds. we just add the four sides of the mold to the inside dimension of the vacuum box. Thus if you convert the 10” x 10” x 10” female cube mold into a male mold for the snapback process. This will help immensely in controlling the amount of scrap you get in a job and the overall uniform distribution of material on the part. Since the top of the mold and the flange area of the mold are identical in area to the inside dimension on the vacuum box. See figure 6.5” x . But what are secondary draw ratios? It is rare that a functional part is a perfect square or rectangle. However. the amount of available material went from 10 inches times 10 inches. the formula stated above would cover all draw ratios that are concerned with squares or rectangles including secondary draw ratios. By incorporating these new values into the above formula. This sheet would weigh 3.500 thickness. which is much more feasible in getting a formed part that is acceptable to a customer. The sheet dimensions needed to get a comparable part with the snapback process would be 18. we should have a minimum of one inch of clearance between the vacuum box wall and the vertical wall of the mold. This is the same value we got empirically by reasoning through the process above. If this pocket is a square or rectangle. we also have more surface area to cover.

24 .

They are listed below as: D = πr2 + πdh FEMALE MOLD D = πr2 +πdh +((L2 x W2) . However. you could devise a situation where you could work the above formulas empirically but it is just as easy to apply the mathematics of the formula. Here they are: D = 2πr2 FEMALE MOLD D = 2πr2 + ((L2 x W2) . A final shape that occurs quite frequently in part design is a cylinder and it may be necessary to calculate the draw ratio on this specific type of can use the exact above formula to calculate the draw ratio of this secondary square or rectangle. it is important to observe these areas on a print to properly select the forming technique you should use and thickness of the sheet you need. These formulas also work for the secondary draw ratios. To accommodate a spherical shape.πr2) L2 x W2 MALE MOLD As I indicated in the beginning of the discussion of draw ratios. To do this we can again use a specific formula for a female mold and a specific formula for a male mold. The first one holds when you are forming a spherical shape into a female mold and the second one comes into play when you are forming a spherical shape over a male mold. 25 . Obviously this would be very important when quoting the part. we need to employ the following formulas. this is an important concept to understand and it is invaluable in determining what process technique to use and what the cost of the part will be. Again.πr2) L2 x W2 MALE MOLD If one wishes. all shapes do not fall into the category of a square or a rectangle.

As a matter of fact. it is possible that a part is too small to be practical to vacuum form it. However. and PROCESSING TECHNIQUES. Also. that is a problem. you can form practically anything. is it possible to employ one of the aforementioned processing techniques and make an acceptable part? It is possible that the tight detail or the mounting requirements that the part has to meet is just too difficult for the process. It is certainly possible to vacuum form it but there is no way you can compete with injection molding. MATERIAL SELECTION. A long thin tube that you would want to form in one piece without a 26 . The four areas are PART DESIGN. First. 10 feet wide and 4 feet deep that was vacuum formed. Usually though. There are certain shapes that do not lend themselves to vacuum forming because the draw ratio in certain spots and sometimes the entire part become too great. does the part lend itself to vacuum forming? What do we mean by this? Well. PART DESIGN This is probably the most important consideration in getting a good part that will perform the function you want it to. Careful review of the print and a candid discussion with the design engineer could save a lot of embarrassment later.IMPORTANT CONCERNS IN VACUUM FORMING To make successful parts in vacuum forming. Let us address these functions as they apply to this process. TOOLING DESIGN. you may not be able to get the detail you need on such a small part or for that matter the wall thickness you might need. If the machine has a large enough platen and a long enough platen stroke. I have seen a waste disposal tank that was 25 feet long. If a part is too large for your equipment. it is very important to establish a rapport with the engineer in this situation so you can tell him that something is not practical without having the fear that you might loose the job. there are four important areas that you need to pay absolute close attention to. Here are a number of things that go into deciding whether it makes sense to proceed. sheer largeness is not an impediment to vacuum forming. A case in point would be a thimble. Ignoring any one of these areas could cause your part to be unsuccessful or fail in its application. SHAPE Shape is a consideration too. To tie up a vacuum-forming machine when a small injection-molding machine could do it automatically would make no sense. SIZE Size is definitely a consideration. So let us review what some of these part design considerations might be.

As a rule. If you are doing this with a female tool. The difficulty comes in making the tool. It is rare that you would need fasteners in the direct corners of a part. as you would have assembly problems anyway. but generally it is not advisable to have undercuts of more than one-half inch. width. making an undercut all around the mold will require an extremely complicated tool. Plastic is just like any other material. you will have to incorporate flippers in your tool in order to remove the part. Also. RADII Radii are important in good part design. there are not many shapes that can’t be vacuum formed. say one to two inches high. There are many instances where the use of undercuts will make the assembly of the part easier or dramatically enhance the cosmetics of the total part assembly. Can you make parts with right-angled corners? Sure! Is it good part design? No. Where will the first fracture point be on a part? You got it. and depth of the mold. A right-angled corner is an accident waiting to happen. it is possible to make parts that have a slight negative draft as long as the shrinkage is enough to clear the inside mold wall. if you are using a male mold and you are going to make an undercut. Generally speaking though.seam would be an example. This is not necessarily true for a female tool. Enclosures that have to remain seamless are also impossible to do. it is best to taper off the depth of the undercuts in the corners of the mold to less than one-fourth of an inch. Both of these conditions will limit the amount of undercut you can make. This is the area that can take the least stress. In fact. there are some limitations on what can be done with this design feature. However. right on the right-angled corner. it is axiomatic that you will have to make a movable piece in the mold in order to get the part off. Do people still do it? Sure. a concern not normally entertained by the part designer. DRAFT Draft is a primary consideration on part design and it depends upon whether the mold is a male or female mold. undercuts on a female mold will depend on the length. For instance. if your part is considerably taller than that. Most processing techniques can’t make undercuts at all. you will probably need a minimum of five degrees draft and you should probably have more. Varying the wall thickness as in injection molding is impractical too. As a matter of fact. UNDERCUTS Another part design consideration is the use of undercuts. However. If you have a part that is not very tall and you are using a male mold. not usually. 27 . you don’t need any draft at all. But don’t despair. the stylists still have a lot of clout. Since the plastic is likely to shrink away form the mold as it is cooling. say eight to ten inches. it is possible to have as little as two degrees draft if you are willing to employ an extended demolding cycle.

huh! Sometimes common sense doesn’t prevail. TEXTURE Texture is another design parameter to consider. As a matter of practical thermoforming sense. In actuality. This is true because if you are using a female mold. If the draw ratio of a part is three to one. there are various draw ratios within the same part. This is true. Suppose you have a sheet that is .050” and the low parts will be . When you stretch the material over the mold. the valleys will spread apart more readily than the peaks and the thinning in the valleys will be exaggerated. Why is this something to be concerned about? You should be able to have anything you want.012”. you can select most grains that would enhance the styling of the formed part. The corners are quite strong but just down from the corners you are likely to see some very unsightly chill marks and there will also be a greater propensity for webbing on the bottom of the part on the corners. This can make grain distortions even more apparent. the ball radii in each of the corners of the part should be doubled for each respective draw ratio unit. this isn’t a doom and gloom scenario. As is the case. This texture has a grain depth of about . the amount of radius you put on a part is related to the size of the part. Thus structurally the part may be weakened in the valley areas or even excessively thin. Even more problematic is the fact that when parts are formed. At a three to one draw ratio I like to see a full inch radius. Common sense. If the draw ratio is two to one or more. some textures may become severely distorted. By properly considering the shape of the part. So. Structurally. generally most plastics are notch sensitive and in high stress areas (right-angled corners) failures can occur. but depending on the draw ratio of the part.006”. the pattern could become elongated or flattened and look significantly different on different parts of the part. Usually if a part has a more than a two to one draw ratio I would like to see a minimum of a one-half inch radius or a forty-five degree mitered corner. the draw ratio of the part and the sheet thickness that you start with. depth and width of grain need to be considered when designing a plastic part. it is common sense to expect the grain texture to spread out by three times.012” to .Generally speaking. This means that the bottom of the extruded sheet is only . the minimum radius should be onehalf inch. the valleys of the texture get slightly hotter than the peaks. If the draw ratio is three to one. 28 . When you deal with a male mold the problem is different. a deep draw part will get pretty thin on the bottom of the mold and thus the part will usually be quite flimsy on the corners. probably by at least of factor of two.088” thick. this will yield a more durable part.044” and the grain depth will go from . the radius should be a least one inch. About the same rules apply to a male mold. If you apply a draw ratio of two to one to this material the peak thickness of the part will theoretically be . The depth of the grain in relationship to the starting thickness of the sheet also has some bearing on what grains you can select. This has got to change how it looks and the part may not be as attractive with the stretched out texture. If you have a texture with a pattern.100”gauge and you select a deep levant grain. what really does happen is that during the heating process of thermoforming. The thinner parts of the heated sheet have inherently less hot strength than the peaks. Hey.

You have to know. However. In most cases they are pressure formed within the thermoforming process. Otherwise bridges would be made out of flat steel as opposed to tube stock or I-beams. Well. Some of this has to do with material selection but we will address that later. Color. color. Then again. not the kind you get in restaurants. One of them is load bearing. This has more to do with sales appeal than function. This is especially true with a waffling effect on the plastic part supporting the underside of a bathtub. A . Pressure forming can give you that look and still give you a part that is structurally sound. it is surprising what you can do. Another group of parts would be computer or medical instrument fascia. A little thought up front when in the design mode should guide one to make rational decisions here. These parts usually require crisp design lines. have a dull gloss look to them. gloss and appearance may have nothing to do with the part. It doesn’t do much good if a pallet is attractive if it falls apart under load. it is clear that a flat sheet of metal stood on end is not as strong as a ribbed piece such as a channel iron. How about ribs? No. Most of these parts have a soft texture. A twin sheet formed pallet would be an example. 29 . gloss and appearance are essentially irrelevant but function is everything.125” starting gauge piece of ABS formed into a waffle and glued unto the underside of the tub bottom will easily support 300 pounds over a one foot square area. you can have any level of cosmetics you are willing to pay for that is commensurate with sales and marketing requirements. but if you are careful in your design parameters. if you check with the sales and marketing people. The reason is obvious. there are a few 300 pound dudes that take showers. the same is true with plastics. and a color that is easy on the eyes. PART INTEGRITY and FUNCTION What does the part or assembly have to accomplish? In what environment will the part be used? Some of this is material related which we will address later but there are some general things to be considered. A ribbed part has more load-bearing ability than a flat walled part. this may be one of the most important factors in selling the assembly. An instrument panel in a vehicle is a case in point.COLOR. with a dull gloss look. SURPRISE! Plastics are normally not considered to be load-bearing materials. assuming that the function of the two assemblies are equivalent. From an engineering standpoint. Generally speaking. Let us go through a few design characteristics. An instrument panel with these features would be less taxing on the eyes and less stressful when you have to stare past it for an extended period of time. colors that are soft. Generally speaking it is almost always easier to sell an assembly that is more attractive than one that is not. GLOSS and APPEARANCE This has more to do with the cosmetics of an assembly or part than its function.

Although UV resistance is not considered part of part integrity. This brings us to what is practical.150” thick but yet will support a 250 pound person standing on it. One has to realize that this distribution will not be totally even so some areas will be more and some less than the sought after finished gauge. the canoe must be thicker or it will flex in that area in what the industry notes as oil canning. This is a reduction in size of . at 20°F this same part will be 19. Physics is physics.95 inches long (. It never ceases to amaze me when I see tolerances specified to the third decimal place on a print. However.Arches and domes are also designs that can enhance appearance and add to structural integrity. Obviously measuring the part in different temperature conditions within the plant could make up for more than the plus or minus a few thousands that you were allowed on the print. All this is true. On the flattened bottom. say 20 inches in length.05” (fifty thousands of an inch). This is usually a function of the starting thickness of the sheet and/or the draw ratio during the forming process. So how do we get to the point of making a 20 inch long part? Well. These parts are usually only about .150” will get you there. Another prime example that typifies the arch principle is a canoe. Some parts are simply just too thin to have any structural integrity. a one and one-half to two inch dome formed into this type of cover will not only provide for rain run off but will even support a significant amount of snow load. the first thing 30 . If a part starts out to be 20 inches long at 70°F. it is only a matter of time before the part will become brittle and if prone to stress. The first thing that needs to be done is to get the mold or tooling to be correct. fail.00005 inches/inch). if you have a part that is going to be continuously outside. you have to take into account the amount of shrinkage you expect in producing the tool and the amount of shrinkage you expect in the plastic during processing.00005 x 20 inches x 50°F temperature change). If you don’t. Note the design of plastic covers for outboard motors. the wall is stiffer even though it is thinner. Thickness of the plastic can also be a factor in part integrity. Different plastics have different amounts of shrinkage and cooling conditions in making the mold castings can vary the size of molds.100”. Does anyone think we can get there? The coefficient of thermal expansion of most plastics is around 5 times 10 to the minus fifth inches per inch per degree Fahrenheit (. Another dome. That’s plus or minus a few thousands of an inch. However. Aha you say. If you have a draw ratio of two to one and you want to end up with a finished gauge of . An example is the slight arched effect on pick-up bed covers. on the sides or the ends where there is a considerable amount of curvature. you had better take it into account. More about this later. A flat sheet of plastic suspended over the bed will surely sag in the middle and collect water in a rainstorm. This depends on what type of tooling you select but let us say we start with an aluminum temperature controlled tool. TOLERANCES Tolerances are our next issue. there is no way that a sheet with a starting thickness of . When you want to get to a certain sized part.

you will get a part that is consistent in size and also quite close to the actual size you were looking for within the tolerance you were seeking. If you are exceedingly lucky. you may need to select alternate types of tooling.002 of an inch per inch. there may be very slight variations between runs. it will have to be operated by a human being and as a consequence each part will be trimmed a little different albeit only slightly. However. Now you know why thermoforming is a “black art”.005” to . The only way to compensate for this is to build very expensive fixtures that do not allow for any skill or judgment to be used by the operator. trimming accuracy depends on the accuracy of the trimming fixture you produce or the accuracy of the automatic mechanical trimming device you use. Thus the range published for shrinkage data on ABS is usually . but assuming that all is well in plasticland what can we expect? Generally speaking. You still have to make the part form on the mold with proper material distribution and that in itself may dictate to you where the processing conditions will be.. If accuracy is required beyond this point. First of all. The general guideline for making a mold is to allow one sixteenth of an inch per foot for the aluminum shrinkage when making an aluminum casting. What do I mean in each case? If you use a manual trimming device. To be sure. So how can we vary the part size through the thermoforming process? If you heat the plastic sheet to the high end of the forming range and you cool the part for an extended time on the mold. a significantly greater variation in shrinkage will occur during the forming process.005 . Can you now see why a temperature-controlled tool will give you parts that are more consistent in size? If the tool was accurate in size to begin with and you can home in just the right processing conditions. Who has more fun than thermoformers? Now you know why tolerances on a print can be nebulous. Sounds like a fun job! Even with all this. it is probably not possible to achieve trimming tolerances of less than plus or minus a thirty-second of an inch. The reason for this is that the operator is human and he cannot possibly hold the router. both ends of the mold will be within a few thousands of an inch and you will be able to compensate by altering the processing conditions of the plastic.007 inches per inch. If you look at published data on mold shrinkage of plastics. That brings us to tolerances on secondary operations. You can actually vary the mold shrinkage by about . Will this always be right? No but this will get us as close as we can expect.040 of an inch. you should be able to get a consistent sized part. One end of the mold may be .010” longer or shorter than the other. saw or any other device he is using in exactly the same way each time. This brings us to variations in material size. fabrication. you will get a part that is larger than one that you heat to the minimum temperature range. it stands to reason that how accurately you can trim something will ultimately depend on the accuracy and consistency of the formed part. once you have a given mold. and hole drilling. you will note that you are usually given a range. say a given formula of ABS. Anything less will drive the trimming scrap rates sky high and makes the job unfeasible. namely trimming. Thus you can vary the size of a 20 inch part by about .we have to do is get the mold as accurate as possible. 31 . This will happen in spite of taking it off the mold as hot as is allowable without warping. This is because even if you compare like materials.

Generally though. it is the same size on every punch and the only variance is how cleanly you make the cut through the plastic. a good degree of the tolerance is dependent on the size of the part. The key here is the holding fixture.015” if the part is reasonably small and the holding fixture the part is placed on is constructed very soundly and accurately.010” to . temperature. up to a point. Usually you are limited to one or two trim planes on the part because if you try to trim more planes or irregular surfaces. There may be some disagreement between different processors and their claims of accuracy. or distances between slots to . 32 . Figure 7 and table 1 gives you an idea of expected tolerances you get with the different types of trimming. and the size of the part. the later one can be more of a problem. if you only have simple planes to trim or holes to punch out. namely mold shrinkage and coefficient of thermal expansion. we have to design around certain things. slots. You have to make it very rigid and the process of locating the part on it foolproof in regard to consistent placement. the cost of the die becomes prohibitive and you can’t afford to make the part. Mold shrinkage can be somewhat controlled by material selection and the forming processing conditions but the coefficient of thermal expansion cannot be controlled. A third type of trimming is die cutting or punch press stamping. As just stated above. you can cut holes. Since all these are usually given. This is subject to the type of plastic you are cutting and how sharp you keep the die. the more elaborate the trimming fixtures or trimming machines you use the better your tolerances. An example of plastics that is hard to cut cleanly is the olefins.005”. Here you have a fixed sized die cutting through the surface of a formed part. The first is mounting plastic parts to dissimilar materials and locking these materials down with fasteners or adhesives. it is possible to achieve accuracies of .The second method of trimming that is getting very popular is robotic trimming with a five-axis router. a drill hole or an interior cut out on the part. As I indicated earlier. an exterior flange. this is the most accurate way to do it. These machines also allow one to trim parts much more quickly and with a high degree of repeatability with very low scrap rates. However. Of the two types of shrinkage. that is. SHRINKAGE Shrinkage has already been discussed somewhat under tolerances but they must also be addressed in terms of what they do to your part design with regard to assembly. Obviously once you get the die right. What you see is what you get! It is a near linear value related to type of material. but these are approximate guidelines. the area of the part you are trimming and the type of trim you are doing. Depending of the rigidity of the superstructure of these machines.

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Well. Let’s take the assembly temperature of 70° F and put the part in a hot shipping trailer where the temperature goes up to 150° F. You intend to use this assembly in the inside of a building where the temperature is relatively constant at about 70° F.00005 x 60° F x 50 inches). Let’s still assemble this part in a temperate climate. The same phenomena occur when you glue a piece of plastic to something with a different coefficient of thermal expansion such as plywood. But the holes have the part locked down. If the temperature gets high enough.35 inches total. If the plastic is a high impact plastic it will probably elongate OK. One must be aware that this condition will be serious or not worrisome depending on the size of the part. but probably not much near the center hole.2 inches. Assume the part is the same as the example above. However. 15 inches or less. Now let us also say that the end of the metal frame has a right-angled bend on it and your intent is to bend a piece of plastic around this right-angled bend. This condition will even be worse where the plastic wraps around the right angles at the ends. but if it is a hard plastic. Then you drill 5 holes in the plastic part to match the 5 holes in the metal frame with very little assembly play. This is generally unacceptable so it will probably be necessary to slot the two outside holes to accommodate these phenomena and leave a gap between the plastic and the end of the frame.005 inches. the plastic will want to shrink down to 49.067 inches and the contraction would be about . especially if the radius is very tight on the end of the plastic and the frame. Something has to give. but ship it to an area with a winter climate of say 10° F. it will approach the heat distortion point of the plastic and it will warp permanently and the only time the bulge will come out is when the plastic cools down below the manufacturing temperature. The 34 . it won’t be affected.075 inches each.85 inches between the holes (. If you manufactured this part in a temperate climate and shipped it into a temperate area you probably would never have any problems. the plastic will have a memory and when the temperature goes up a little. When parts are small say. However. let’s change a few things. the expansion would be about . the bulge will come back.Here is an example. If you do not use a soft rubbery adhesive the plastic will crack when it gets cold and warp when it gets hot. it would take a drastic change in temperature to have enough effect on the plastic to create a problem. it will warp or bulge up between the holes. If the original distance of the two outside holes were 50 inches. So now you see that it is necessary to have the hole slotted in the outside direction too. Now let us take the direct opposite situation. Obviously the plastic will have to elongate to accommodate this shrinkage. Now we have a temperature change of 80° F and the part between the two outside holes wants to expand to 50. When plastic is heated up.2 inches + . This would mean that there is a screw hole two inches from each end of the frame. it is likely to crack at the holes. it is not brittle so it is very unlikely to crack at the holes. So what will happen.15 inches or . Suppose you have a metal frame about 54 inches long that you drill 5 holes 10 inches apart. As you can see from the above figures and using the same environmental parameters. But the two outside holes will have to elongate by about . say 70° F. The total slot requirement is . Since the plastic will all tend to shrink towards the center hole.

Observe all the plastic road markers along the highway. we can usually use a solvent-based adhesive on most types of plastics. plastics rod welding. rivet. This is especially effective if you can use these ribs to enhance the appearance of the part. If you are trying to put stickers or decals on an olefin part. you must be careful not to use too much.elongation characteristics of the plastic would probably be enough to compensate for this expansion and contraction and nothing serious would likely occur. you can bond them to themselves by using spin welding. There have been a number of cases where just putting in the company name or logo in a strategic place will accomplish the same objective. As an alternative to slots. Other solutions to this condition are the use of H-strips or overlapping joints when the parts are extremely long. Another precaution when using an epoxy or urethane adhesive is to make sure that the durometer of these glues are roughly the same as the plastic you are gluing. This is bound to put you in jeopardy of warping one or both of the surfaces you are trying to put together. And then there are OLEFINS. Another is the process of gluing plastic to itself or to some other dissimilar material. One of them is the obvious condition we have described above regarding the coefficient of thermal expansion. ASSEMBLY and FABRICATION You have all seen the phrase on a plastics data sheet that you can form. There are systems that can give you a reasonable albeit not perfect bond. there is a reasonable window to work with. Often these blocks contain sonically welded in screw inserts. They are made from polyethylene and have reflective tape bonded to them. If we glue plastic to itself. This is especially effective when gluing plastic blocks or spacers to a plastic part. Some plastics are not easily glued by using solvent-based adhesives. 35 . You can enhance this bond by simply cleaning the surface to be glued with isopropyl alcohol and scuffing up the surface with sandpaper. However. This allows the glue to flex at about the same rate as the plastic and keep it from cracking when it is under stress. This is essentially true but there are some restrictions that do apply just as there are with wood. fasten or do anything with plastics that you would expect to do with wood. glue. say eight feet of so. Don’t despair. So care is necessary because I have never seen anyone “unwarp” a part. you can use an epoxy or urethane based adhesive. In these cases. When you do this it is usually a good idea to scuff up the surface to be glued with sand paper as these types of glues are mechanical and the bond will be much better if you do this. that is. the solvent will soften the plastic too much and it is likely to “prune” up on you. to get what appears to be a rough surface. However. the parts may not stay together. If you don’t put enough on. You cannot bond them to unlike materials. if you use a solvent-based adhesive. you can flame treat or corona treat the surface of the part and this will enhance adhesion well enough to get an acceptable bond. If you do. saw. it is sometimes much easier to design expansion and contraction ribs into the part. or just plain using heat to fuse the two pieces together.

This part is best processed using the snapback technique. And speaking of screws. If any of these substances are harmful to the plastics. If it is made on a male mold and the part has any height to it. THIS IS WRONG! Most plastics are notch sensitive. if there is any stress put on it at all. are there any specific things we should avoid in planning a plastic part? The answer of course is yes. One of the first things to avoid is a doubled right-angled corner. After all. Flat metal washers work fine. These washers have less of a tendency to cause cracking if they are a little overtightened. In the last number of years however. the corners will be very thin and structurally unacceptable. there has been a multitude of plastic washers that are more attractive and have a similar durometer as the plastic material you are trying to fasten together. you will surely get a very unsightly severe chill mark. you should get a part that is both structurally and cosmetically acceptable. whether square or rectangular. This is true whether it is made on a male or female mold. will keep you from getting into any structural or cosmetic problems in the corners. Suppose you have a male mold with a width and length of 10 inches and a height of 10 inches. they are the best types of screws to use in conjunction with washers. However. This is not as sensitive as it seems. Even though panhead screws are not very attractive. This means that when a crack is started. If you perform the snapback technique properly. Let us present you with an example. the crack will propagate and likely result in a part failure. This is true whether you use a male or female mold. There are even plastic washers that have beveled recessed holes to accommodate bevel headed screws. sometimes screws and other types of fasteners come from the supplier with a coating on them or are run through a solvent to degrease them. This is a significant source of part failure. The type of washer you use is optional. A lot of people use self-taping screws to cut through the plastic or worse yet just use metal screws. If common sense is used and the screws are moderately tightened this assembly practice will work out just fine. Most times this is caused by tightening down the self-taping screws too tightly or using bevel headed screws. this can even happen if you predrill the holes and really tighten down the screws too tightly.Riveting or screw type fasteners are perfectly acceptable in attaching two plastic pieces together. these fasteners should be thoroughly cleaned off to avoid any type of chemical attack on the plastic. Generally speaking a ball radius of one-fifth of the height of the part. we would have a ball radius of 2 inches on each corner. DESIGN PARAMETERS TO AVOID Given all of the above design guidelines. If it is made on a female mold with any depth at all. The two caveats that are absolutely essential when using this system for joining two pieces together is to predrill the holes and use flat washers on each side of the attached part. 36 . there are literally billions of parts assembled using this technique. So with a height of 10 inches. as you will be able to select a forming technique that will prevent these problems from occurring.

First. it is important that he be brought into the picture early. check with your thermoformer. you’re in love! They are not likely to give up what is truly attractive and you have to admit. is insufficient draft on a part run on a male tool. yes. If you make a right-angled break on a piece of metal and put some heavy stress on it. So there you have it. This will result in more stress and a higher reject rate.Here is where we should inject a key point in part design. Will they get away with it? In most cases. it is imperative that the part designer be aware of the potential problems that can result from this practice. Why rapport? So he can give you a confident NO in regard to a bad design and not fear for loosing the job. it will be very hard to get the part off the mold. However. However. When plastic is formed on a tool. Namely PRESSURE FORMING I have written a whole manual on pressure forming with emphasis on how to make it happen. These are not all the design pitfalls that exist but do address some major ones. Establish a good rapport with your thermoformer and get him involved early. This is true of any type of material. two bad things will result. Does this mean stylists are going to stop designing these types of plastic parts? No. it will fail on the sharp right-angled break. Now go out and do the right thing! Now I would like to address a topic that we probably should have put with thermoforming techniques but it usually is associated more closely with design considerations by design engineers. This should allow you to get the part off without using 100% air eject. crisp design lines are really attractive. Again. the guidelines we use is two degrees for the first inch of height of the part and one additional degree of draft for each additional inch of height. if it fails. pressure forming can be limited to two techniques on either a male or female mold but in probably about 95% of the cases it is done in a female 37 . but we are more interested in design parameters and what can be accomplished by this technique. Since he will have to do the processing. Who understands more about the problems he may encounter in forming a part than the thermoformer? A second no-no in part design if a part is put under stress is sharp right-angled edges whether on the interior or the exterior of the part. this is where it will fail. If you have any continuous or serious stress on the part. there will be an excessive amount of stress on the plastic as it cools and second. Most cosmetic parts are not put under any stress other than the burden of their own weight and this is very unlikely to ever result in a failure. This is an accident waiting to happen. When this happens. when you’re in love. Simply stated. Another no-no albeit not quite as serious. the natural physics of materials dictate that the plastic will shrink onto the tool. He will tell you what he is comfortable with.

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mold. Basically it is done either with the plug assist top or plug assist bottom technique described earlier. The only difference is the plug is incorporated within a pressure box. See figure 8. So why do we employ this technique if it is essentially the same as plug assist top or plug assist bottom? The simple answer is cosmetics. It is the only way to use the thermoforming process and equal the cosmetic appearance of an injection-molded part. Essentially the structural integrity of the formed part is no better or worse than a part that can be made with simply plug assist forming. However, it is far superior in appearance. Here are some of the things that can be accomplished. The first obvious improvement is texture detail and uniformity. During the vacuum forming process, the plastic sheet is stretched out in a non-uniform manner and therefore the texture of the formed part does not match the extruded sheet exactly and it is “washed out” in areas that the plastic is stretched the most. This does not happen in pressure forming. The texture you put into the tool is the same as the texture you get on the part. As a matter of fact the crispness of the texture is superior to the texture you can achieve on the extruded sheet as you are forcing this texture into the mold at a significantly higher temperature than you are embossing the texture on the extruder itself. Plastics flows more freely as you increase the heat. However, there are limitations. At some point you will heat the sheet hot enough to where it will actually discolor and then you have a reject. It should be noted that there are limitations on the extruder too, as running the embossing roll too hot will cause the plastic to wrap up around the embossing roll. In addition to crisper textures, we are also capable of putting multiple textures on the part. This can really enhance its appearance and cannot be achieved with any other thermoforming process. We can also make areas where there is no texture at all so that later on we can silk screen these areas or put decals in them. If there is proper draft on the tool, it is even possible to put quite deep textures into the part without jeopardizing its integrity. And it is feasible to further enhance the part appearance by forming the company logo or other graphics into the surface. We are limited mostly by our imagination. Another useful design feature of pressure forming is the ability to form attractive louvers into the part that can also function as an air circulation or cooling vent. This is done repeatedly on electronic housings and medical equipment. These vents are opened by trimming the backside of the formed part. It is necessary to think these designs through thoroughly because a poor design will lock the part on the tool or fail to provide enough room to make moveable parts on the mold. Again, talk to your thermoformer. He can guide you. Design lines and recessed fastener holes are also feasible. Because you are dealing with a molded part that will be pretty consistent once you get the tool right, you can design panels that are next to each other that have matching features. In addition, recessing fastener holes and insert pockets can really hide unsightly assembly problems. Undercuts


are also very useful for this. The whole purpose for pressure forming is cosmetically dress up your product and make assembly easier. Sometimes metal inserts are even molded into the part for this purpose. So, there are many reasons to use this process to make your parts but the primary reason is to make your product more salable. Good luck, and good designing.

Tool design is the next major area of concern that must be addressed to assure that you make parts that are acceptable and successful. In my estimation, this is the second most important consideration in producing a good part. If you don’t get the tool right, no matter how good you make the material or how clever you are at processing it, the part will not come out right. So what do we need to do and what are the major things to take into account? First of all, can the tool be made? Is it possible to form the part and can it be readily demolded? Remember when we suggested that the part designer and the thermoformer get together? Well, this is a good time to get both of these people involved with the mold builder. The first thing we have to determine is what type of material are we going to use and what tolerances are expected. The next thing we need to know is what the part looks like and what are its dimensions. This will be discussed more thoroughly later but we do need to know this up front in order to initially determine what type of tool we have to make. So, what is available?

There are two basic types of vacuum-formed tooling. MALE and FEMALE. Well, what’s the fuss? Select one and let’s get on with it. Unfortunately it is not that simple. Here are the primary things you need to consider to make a proper selection. First, where are the important dimensions on the part? Are they on the inside or outside? If they are on the inside, then we will have to go with a male mold. Vacuum forming only allows us to control one surface of the part. Either the inside or the outside, so you have to pick the one that is the most important. Let us give an example. Suppose you are building a case for a musical instrument. Obviously the insert that goes inside the case to nest the horn will be a specific size and fit snugly into the case. So the dimension you want to control will be the inside dimension. If the opening is too small, the insert will not fit and if it is too large, the insert will bounce around inside the case and possibly keep the insert from protecting the horn. You’ve all seen how careful kids are in caring for their horns. A second concern is the shape of the part. If you are trying to make a shape similar to a gallon pail, a female mold is not going to work very well. A gallon pail is approximately 6 inches in diameter and about 8 inches high. Using the formula for draw ratio of a cylinder presented way back when, we note that the draw ratio is about 6 to 1. This is just not practical, as it is normally good design practice to keep the draw ratio to 3 to 1 or less. This can be done quite well using a male mold and using the snap back thermoforming 40

technique. If you need to control the outside dimension of this gallon pail type part, good luck. It is very unlikely you will get a structurally acceptable part. So you see, it is mandatory that you understand draw ratio and have some knowledge of the various available thermoforming techniques. That is why we presented them first. Another consideration on shape is the part symmetry. If the part is very asymmetrical, it may only be practical to do it as a two up mold. Maybe this is the way it becomes most economical to produce. Take a square box type part that is about 10 inches high and 10 inches wide with one end cut out of it. This is a natural for a two up mold, both from an economy standpoint and practical thermoforming standpoint in reducing the draw ratio. Appearance is a concern. Which side is the cosmetic side? Take a bathtub for instance. The inside appearance is critical and therefore you could not use a male mold, as the mold surface would cause tooling marks on the inside of the tub. Gloss and smoothness sells in the bathroom industry. Hey, don’t fight it. The same case can be made for texture. If you have a male mold and pull the texture against the mold surface, you are going to wipe out some or all of the textured surface. So if you have a female part that requires texture in the inside, you are going to have to use a female mold. If you have a part that really requires a highly cosmetic finished surface, you may have to use a pressure formed tool. So what you have to accomplish appearance wise may dictate what type of mold you will have to use. A fourth consideration for the selection of a male or female mold has to do with how the part has to be assembled and if it has a matching part. Undercuts are very popular on matching up an assembly. However, if you need undercuts on more than two sides of a part, you will most likely need a female mold, as a male mold would be extremely complicated and prohibitively expensive. Sometimes it is necessary to have two parts mate together. In many instances this can best be accomplished by making one mold a female and one mold a male. This will provide you with a nesting effect where the inside surface of one part will be controlled and the outside surface of the other part will be controlled as well. One can readily see that if you need to match a male and female part, it will be necessary to have molds that are fairly accurate with regard to this matching requirement, and it will be mandatory to select a mold making material that will provide you with this accuracy. What are some of these materials?

There are a number of materials available for making molds. The one you select will depend on the tolerances that are necessary on the finished part, the cosmetics required, how many parts you need to make, and to an extent, just how much you can afford to spend on a given project. Let us look at some of these materials, evaluate some of the pluses and minuses, and determine where and why you would use them.



What we do to make this tooling depends on whether we need a male or female tool. a part starts off as a drawing or a print and from this we make a prototype tool or pattern. This type of tooling is considered permanent tooling for lower volume projects. they will need a good deal of maintenance because they will dry out and crack. then you will have to build some additional shrinkage into it to allow for the shrinkage you encounter from the mold making material. sometimes by 5 or 6 times in the case of the olefins. This can cause stress in the part and in some serious cases. there are a limited number of parts you can pull on a wooden tool. wax it up. If you have to make a female mold. it will be necessary to compensate for the shrinkage that will occur during the forming process and thus the pattern will be slightly larger than the expected part. the cooling will be uneven depending on the finished thickness throughout the part. Third. Let’s suppose we need a male tool. Whenever. So. Thus if you plan to form parts off the pattern and later use it for making the mold. wax it up.Wood is the simplest type of material used in vacuum forming. This is placed on a mold base just as a wooden mold would. If you run these molds in production. It is cheap! It can also be milled or fabricated into a shape pretty easily and it is very readily available. if the wooden tool is used for production. Fourth. sometimes the grain in the wooden tool will transfer onto the plastic and if the material is thin and the grain in the tool is heavy. If you are only going to use this pattern to build a mold. things are actually easier.010 inches per inch for the mold material depending on what type of material you select to build the mold. you will have to expand it just before making the tool to adjust for this additional shrinkage. Then we take this female skin and make a much thicker.008 inches per inch and an additional shrinkage of . warping. If a part is to be made from this pattern. but eventually it will fall apart. you should consider it as a viable alternative. it is necessary to weigh the costs of this type of tooling versus the results you need to get. the mold will heat up after the first few shots and start to warp. Finally.001 to . Cracking will transfer through the formed plastic. This will depend on the type of plastic you plan to form on it.005 to . The number one benefit is the cost. With the exception of wood tooling. the first advantage is price. and make a permanent durable fiberglass shell around it. most amorphous plastic materials have a material shrinkage from . We take the male wooden pattern. Generally. Generally. Then you put it on a mold base and prepare it just like 42 . more durable permanent male mold from it. Again. However. It too has limitations but it also has advantages. it will even transfer through to the cosmetic surface. POLYESTER or FIBERGLASS This is another popular material for making tools. it is the most economical way to go. and make a female fiberglass skin off of it. and the same general preparation is done. Most patterns to make a thermoforming tool are made from wood. you have a job that requires less than 2000 parts per year. You just take the male wood pattern. wood is an insulator and cooling the part on a wooden tool will dramatically lengthen the cooling cycle. It should be noted that it is important to use high temperature polyester or when you thermoform parts. First. Prototypes are usually pulled with a wooden tool but not always. Second. wood has moisture in it. This will depend a great deal on what type of wood you use to build the mold. you should be aware of some limitations.

However. but it will take a long time so the maintenance is drastically reduced. There are not many disadvantages in regard to epoxy tooling but one big one is weight. For instance. It is also more efficient than fiberglass tooling. Generally the advantages outweigh the disadvantages by a significant amount because there are a lot of formers out there using this type of tooling as an alternative to aluminum. Since he can control the whole process. ALUMINUM TEMPERATURE CONTROLLED TOOLING 43 . Because you are in many cases pouring a solid cavity or at best a very thick walled structure. The tool will eventually show fine cracks. you do not have any temperature control and so there will still be some variation in part size but it will not be as much as with wood or fiberglass tools. you can run about 60 to 70% of the parts you can normally run on a temperature-controlled tool. Parts made off of a cold tool will always be a different size than parts made off of a hot one. Typically you have a much greater mass of material to drill through and this is usually more difficult. And since the hole paths are normally longer. it is quite adequate and likely the most economical way to go. he is just days away from getting into production. but it is definitely more expensive than fiberglass tooling. this will only be a slight inconvenience. probably half. that is. maybe just days after the pattern is made. this type of tooling may weigh three or four times as much as fiberglass or temperature controlled aluminum tooling. But the big advantage is the speed with which one can go from a print to a finished tool. the cooling cycle is still two or three times as long as a temperature controlled tool but it is only half as long as a wooden tool. Another difficulty is dealing with the vacuum holes on epoxy tools. what are the limitations? Most of them are just the same as a wooden tool only not as pronounced. in the thousands. In many cases this is done in house by the former. it will be more difficult to put this tooling in the thermoforming machine and move it around to get it set up accurately as easily. It too is considered permanent tooling but the volume of parts you could expect to form off of this type of tooling is quite high. Here price isn’t as big of an advantage as temperature controlled tooling but it is still significant. after he gets the pattern made. The cooling cycle is definitely better than a fiberglass tool and the tool will last significantly longer too. It will also be harder for the platens to move the mold up and down if the mold is large and you have air operated platens. Well. However. for parts that are used in the recreational vehicle industry and the like. Generally speaking. It will also be difficult to match the accuracy you would expect in a temperature controlled tool but it is better than a wooden one. EPOXY TOOLING This is also a very popular way to make tooling and it also has some advantages and limitations. it is easier to get them plugged up with debris during the forming operation. would a male mold. All this can be done in a relatively short period of time. As in the case of wooden or fiberglass tooling.

A second plus is the cycle time. namely. it is repairable at a nominal cost.This is the type of tooling that would normally be suggested if it is at all affordable. you will need to select a tool that will meet your needs at the minimum cost. you will not be able to eliminate them. the type of materials you run may dictate this type of tooling. you will get your money back on the first run you make. Admittedly a wooden tool may only take two weeks and a fiberglass or epoxy one may only take three weeks. Cast aluminum if just what it sounds like. The olefins are perfect examples. It is conceivable that you will be able to pull a half a million parts with very little maintenance off this type of tooling before the tool is unusable. you can take the part off of the tool each time at the same temperature and expect the shrinkage to be very similar from part to part. Let us go through some of the pluses. From a pattern just like the one we made for a fiberglass or an epoxy tool. A third plus is durability. 44 . but the cost required to produce the part on a temperature controlled aluminum tool will probably make up for this. When you take into account the reduction in cycle times. This is the fastest way you can make a part in thermoforming. this may be the only alternative. it is only about 10% of the cost of an injection-molded tool. If maximum accuracy is necessary. in most cases. it doesn’t make any sense to run a part without a temperature controlled tool as the mold will overheat so badly that you will have to slow the cycle down to less than the speed of a single station machine anyway. In regards to the lead time it takes to make the tool. Finally. they are very few. if you are using a rotary thermoformer. The only ones I could think of are cost and lead times in getting the tool. cast aluminum or fabricated aluminum. This is very important if you have a job with a high volume of parts. There are two variations of this type of tooling. you can expect to encounter numerous warping problems. We will talk more about this shortly. Another example is polycarbonate. in most cases if the job has decent volume. So. this type of tooling produces the best and most consistent part you will get in the thermoforming process. This material is extremely sensitive to chill marks and if you don’t have temperature controlled tools. This is likely the most expensive type of mold in thermoforming but to put it into perspective. Both of these have a lot of advantages and very few disadvantages. most tools can be put into production within four to six weeks of giving a tool manufacturer the order. What are the disadvantages? As we indicated. This type of tooling is the most accurate in terms of dimensions but it also costs about twice as much as a cast tool. This is then put on a mold base just as we would for any other tool except it is normally made out of aluminum. First of all. Depending on what you have to do. Olefins require very accurate cooling temperatures and these are very difficult to obtain without this type of tooling. some materials are exceedingly difficult to pull without using temperature-controlled tooling. we make a plaster cast that allows us to make an aluminum shell about three-eighths of an inch thick with water lines cast right into it. As a matter of fact. Because the temperature is totally controllable. If you were to put a nick or gouge into the tool. In the case of a fabricated aluminum tool. Without temperature controlled tooling. either a single piece of aluminum block is honed out to make the mold and then gun drilled or a series of aluminum blocks are cut and assembled to produce the tool.

it just makes good sense to use temperature-controlled tooling. If crisp lines are needed and pressure forming is required. We will elaborate on this a little more when we discuss materials. The results with non-temperature controlled tooling will just not be as good. First. Sandblasting or moating other types of tooling is very difficult and putting in cooling lines to prevent warping if virtually impossible. A case in point is the use of TPO (themoplastic olefin). Sometimes it is totally impossible to use a particular material on a given mold. The geometry of the part also has a good deal to determine what type of tooling we select. The real key is the variable shrinkage that we usually get with non-temperature controlled tooling. None of these are very popular as they all have some severe shortcomings. An example alluded to earlier was the use of the olefins. the tendency will be to use something inexpensive such as wood or fiberglass unless the part cannot be produced if an aluminum temperature controlled tool is not used. These materials have high mold shrinkage and tend to warp rather easily.There are other types of tooling that are available. the type of process we need to make the part. This helps to keep the material in better contact with the mold throughout the cooling cycle. If the volume is low. 45 . No matter what you do. COMMENTS ON TOOLING Now let us make a few observations and have a general discussion regarding some of the characteristics of the various types of tooling. To compensate for this. it is also generally practical to use temperature controlled aluminum tooling. ceramic. urethane. It will subsequently web and no matter what you mechanically do. And then we have to take into account the process technique we select to make the part. It is hard to keep these large parts from having chill marks if we don’t select this type of tooling. If you are trying to form a part that is long and wide but somewhat shallow. it will sag a lot. they all work to some extent and I have seen every one of them used. However. there will be no place for the material to go. Remember the cost of the part has to be amortized with the part cost and tooling cost included so volume plays an important part in the total cost. it is very desirable to build tooling with a moat and sandblast the finish. Again. when this material is brought to its forming temperature range. If you are going to use the billow form male or billow form female technique. you may not be able to get a good part. plaster and paperboard. the part will show chill marks and the cosmetics will not be as good. Some of these are iron. material considerations come into play when you select a mold and when you determine what type of forming technique you will use. we note that the type of tooling we select will be dependent on the geometry of the part that we need to produce. and the volume of parts that need to be produced. When parts are very large. The type of material you use for the part will also have a bearing on what type of tooling you select. the only practical type of tooling is temperature controlled aluminum tooling. Typically the heat transfer rating on these materials are very poor. Thus.

but it will probably be quite adequate to do the job. Will the part ever be as good as a symmetrical one? No. Assuming the tool is not inordinately small. We also mentioned louvers and undercuts. Even so. Louvers have some design considerations you have to take into account too. say three sixteenths of an inch to make it easier to form. depending on materials. Even with a female. Again a case in point is an electronic housing. if you push this window too far. is impractical and the results will usually be disappointing. you may not be able to achieve the detail you want on these louvers and sacrifice some aesthetic appeal on the part. undercuts. it will cost some more money to build the tool and require a good deal of design creativity when you actually make the tool. In the corners of the part. that is. Can we fix this problem? Sure! However. something like 6” x 6” in length and width and three inches deep where you don’t really have enough room to put an undercut. Kind of a catch 22. Let’s say you select snap back as the thermoforming process to make the part. Typically the tool will be a temperature controlled aluminum tool and it will be a female. you will be steeling too much material from the corners. These parameters are well known by pressure forming manufacturers. This will result in both thinning and chill marks on the 18” end. the other end will surely pierce through the bubble and stretch the material a quite a bit. Plastic processing in general does not like asymmetry. To try to make them on a wooden tool. Remember that you only have air pressure to work with here and shop pressures are normally limited to about 120 PSI. Say you have a part that is about 36” x 36” in length and width and about 6” high on one end of the part and 18” high on the other end. Let us talk about asymmetry a bit. If you pull the bubble into the vacuum box about 16 or 17 inches deep you will pretty much eliminate the thinning and chill mark problem on the deep end but the shallow end will most likely web. Any more than this will exaggerate the degree of difficulty that the part will take on during the thermoforming process. which end do you accommodate? If you only pull a 6” bubble. if parts are unusually difficult. dramatic asymmetry or just plain busy. that is louvers. These design features are usually associated with pressure forming and they do affect the tooling you select. Hopefully you will have addressed this in part design and made good judgments in conjunction with the thermoformer. and proper consultation with these people could avert some embarrassing moments later. it just makes no sense to try to produce them on inferior molds. If you try to make them less. you should limit the width of the undercut to about a half inch. When you pull your bubble into the vacuum box. These parts almost always have cosmetic requirements that are demanding. You will more than likely have to over engineer the shallow end to make the deep end adequate. there are certain design parameters you should not violate. Many times the part geometry will dictate the integrity of the part. Undercuts are extremely hard to achieve with a male tool. with the exception of prototypes. the width of the louver must be at least as wide as the starting gauge of the material. Then too. 46 . this width should be reduced to as little as possible. and the bottom of the part will get extremely thin and you may not be able to do anything about it.Some parts are very complex. This is especially true in thermoforming. Generally speaking. If you get much more than this in the corners. no amount a pressure you put on the pressure box for your pressure formed tool may be enough.

Scratches may even show. The amount of vacuum holes is important too. This is what is known as hot strength and will be discussed in more detail later. You can see that a wooden tool would transfer about everything. More importantly. However.Another issue with tooling is surface finish and vacuum holes. Generally on flat areas of a part. Well. For instance. Of these three things the most important is size. . in pocket areas where the material will still be relatively thick even after forming. especially if the material is a low gauge material to begin with. Some materials are more forgiving. Yes. the material thickness.030” thick or less will they begin to show. ABS or ABS alloys do not flow as much during the thermoforming process and will hide some of these tooling defects.030” or less. there size. However. How big will the dimple be? Again it depends on the material. Everything on a smooth texture shows unless you get the smooth surface from the pressure forming process. you may be able to get away with a little more in terms of tooling roughness. if you are using an olefin. even with heavier gauged materials. Try to keep them below . say down to . A good general rule is to keep the draw ratio to 3 to 1 or below whenever possible. it is rare for dimples to show up if the hole is . no amount of vacuum or pressure in the case of a pressure formed tool would allow them to transfer through the part. almost anything will transfer through the material from the mold. and the texture of the material. a vacuum hole every four or five inches is adequate. Note my example on draw ratio pages ago. and the size of the hole.030” even with heavy gauge. Whether they show or not depends on three things. it may be necessary to drill a hole every one-half inch. Only if the material is being pulled very thin in pocket areas. These amorphous materials also retain their textures better and tend to conceal some of these tooling marks. if they are too large. this will limit the amount of vacuum we can pull through the vacuum holes. This is especially true when the starting material thickness is low and the texture is smooth. but this is rarely a problem. If the material is a little thicker and has a good texture on it. You can always drill more holes. When using ABS type materials. the material you use. there are usually areas of the formed part that are cut out or off the trimmed edge of the part where you can drill larger holes if you need more vacuum volume. Next we want to address vacuum holes. This would make it mandatory for the mold to be totally cleaned up and sand blasted to put a good surface on it to get good contact. If they were small enough. you say. It was not practical to form the 10” x 10” x 10” part with a female tool but it was practical with 47 . In the case of light gauge. The problem obviously becomes more acute when we a dealing with a smooth texture. Another area that must be taken in account when designing a tool is draw ratio or stretch ratio. Usually this can be accomplished by designing a tool that will accommodate the most optimum thermoforming technique. When you are looking at surface finish. a good deal depends on the material you use. there will most certainly be a pimple on the mold side of the part and a dimple on the side of the part away from the mold. the actual starting and finishing thickness of the material.030” will very likely not be small enough. and the amount of vacuum you have. In the case of olefins. the pimples on the backside of the part will show up rather quickly.

it is close to impossible to get rid of all the chilling marks but they can usually be made reasonably acceptable. With a non-temperature controlled tool you are likely to get only 8 parts per hour. A ten degree temperature variation may slow the cooling cycle slightly but will not have much effect on the part warping. With most materials. Amorphous materials are not as sensitive. The heat transfer is very poor and in no way can the processing cycle compare with temperature controlled aluminum tooling. you will likely get 20 parts per hour but a rotary machine with a nontemperature controlled tool will still only get you 8 shots per hour. we should state that cooling lines are not mandatory but they are highly desirable. However.187” gauge ABS material on a single station machine. We also have to consider the distance these cooling lines are apart from each other. A second thermolator system will make it easier to have a uniform temperature on both the inlet and outlet of both systems on the mold. Next we would like to discuss cooling lines in temperature controlled tooling. If you fill the epoxy matrix with a lot of aluminum. if you exceed 18 square feet of surface it is generally desirable to have an additional themolator system hooked up to the mold. First. The third major reason for having temperature-controlled tooling is purely economical. for the olefins. you are just asking for the processing reject ratio to increase dramatically. This is the only way you can obtain optimum cycle times. A second major reason for having temperature-controlling lines in the tool is to be able to control chill marks. the biggest issue here is the reject factor during the thermoforming process. This makes the part more susceptible to stress not to mention the reduction in part integrity. On some materials it makes no sense to run the job without temperature controlled tooling. you can effectively control about 30 square feet of mold surface. If you use a rotary machine and a temperature controlled tool.a male tool using the snapback technique. it is somewhat effective but I personally am not a big fan. Say you are running . 48 . With a temperature controlled tool you are likely to get about 12 shots per hour. say 50 or 60%. The benefits are obvious. Plastics do not normally liked to be stretched below a third of their original thickness. Normally water lines are embedded into the aluminum casting but on some aluminum fabricated tools holes are gun drilled into the base of the structure. failure to consider what the draw ratio or secondary draw ratio of a part will be is probably the number one reason for not being able to process a part successfully. As a matter of fact. Any time you go past this 3 to 1 draw ratio. On olefins. However. On certain very difficult parts. it may be necessary to increase the radii on the part or redesign it. If this cannot be accomplished. this distance should be reduced to three inches. A more than five degree temperature range on the tool will increase the stress put into the formed part and increase the chances for a warped part. Both are very effective in controlling the temperature but gun drilling is a little more difficult to do. There are also attempts to run cooling lines into epoxy tooling. The amount of tooling surface you have exposed is important too. a four-inch distance from center to center on the cooling lines will be adequate. Olefins are very susceptible to warping. With proper manifolding of the cooling lines.

most parts are not this simple and the volume of parts needed does not allow for such simple methods to be used. As we indicated in the very beginning. PROCESSING Processing is the third major area that needs to be addressed to assure that acceptable and successful parts are made. you will need a very sophisticated machine that is likely to cost a lot of money. this depends on what type of markets you are interested in. vacuum forming can be quite simplistic. Are the parts sophisticated? No. Well. there are many levels of complexity when considering the vast array of processors. but they could be acceptable as prototypes if they are small enough or even production pieces if the parts were thin enough for a minimum amount of vacuum to pull them. It is useful to have a good understanding of the thermoforming process to take advantage of what the process has to offer.In many cases it is possible to design the tooling to make secondary operations easier to do or even to eliminate the need for secondary trim fixtures altogether. you will likely be able to use a machine with single sided heaters that you may be able to make yourself. If you are interested in the electronics or medical market. So what does a processor need to handle the business that is likely to come his way? Generally. 49 . Fortunately for the processors. There are many little “tricks” and subtle ideas that can be used in designing tooling and nobody knows them all. If the first two major areas of consideration are properly handled. By building little ledges outside the useable part area. Anyone with as little as a pizza oven and a vacuum cleaner can actually make parts. By thoroughly thinking out what we have to do and understanding what can be done with proper tooling. Better ways are always evolving. This makes everyone more efficient and is likely to be reflected in the quality and the cost of the part. This is not acceptable if tight tolerances are required. this very important consideration of PROCESSING will be much easier to accomplish. and I have seen it done literally. what is involved here? First of all. we can make the thermoforming process and secondary operations easier. If you are only interested in making simple signs from thin gauge materials. However. This is done repeatedly in the RV industry. there are many cases in pressure forming when holes and cutouts are precisely located by designing them into the tool. Let’s explore what’s required to make various types of parts and examine the equipment available to do this. namely GOOD PART DESIGN and PROPER TOOLING. of course not. you can run a router with a guide on it along this shelf and trim the part out so it is only necessary to touch it up with a sander. Get in there with the mold builder and former and see how creative you can get. A lot can be accomplished with tooling.

Well. Finally we need a vacuum system to force the hot plastic onto the mold. and I have seen this done. the response is not immediate. Let’s talk about the platens first. However. We will elaborate on this shortly. what moves these platens? The least sophisticated way would be to devise a mechanical means that you could operate manually. the rack and pinion drive is described as an electrically driven chain drive. and forming it into a shape. This is attached to some type of a trolley system that we can move in and out of a heating oven and position over a mold. We call this a platen. there are some drawbacks. the three most common methods used when employing a machine are pneumatic. It has an air cylinder attached to a framework of the platen and can be moved up or down by actuating an air valve at either end of the cylinder. This is a very popular method of moving a mold into the forming position on a vacuum forming machine. Frequently. Whenever you operate something pneumatically that requires a certain amount of force. radiant type heaters or by gas flame heating. The primary reasons are because it is simple to install. hydraulic or rack and pinion drive. heating it up. It can be something as simple as metal piano frame or what is most frequently used namely a pneumatic clamping frame. Next. We also need an oven to heat the sheet. This is accomplished by employing any one of the various techniques of thermoforming. it is adequate to do the job. we described thermoforming as taking a flat sheet of plastic. In most cases. However. Depending on which one we select will dictate how sophisticated the equipment will be.EQUIPMENT FUNCTION Way back when. PLATENS Platens are nothing more than a well-stabilized and securely built framework to move a mold up or down. simple to operate. There is a very slight delay before full force is applied so you may get a somewhat “jerky” motion as you push the mold through the plastic or take the part off 50 . we need some type of mechanism to hold the mold and make it possible to seal the hot plastic around the mold edges. In its normal position. and therefore the least expensive to construct. it is retracted so we will have enough clearance to be able to pull the clamping frame across the mold without dragging the hot plastic against the mold surface. This can be done by hot air. A pneumatically driven platen is just what it sounds like. First. On very simple machines we only have one of these frameworks on the bottom just off the shop floor. Here is what we basically need to do this. we need something to hold the plastic sheet.

better known as electrically driven platens. Now on very simple forming systems. This system also allows you to use a plug more effectively. This is done with a clamping frame. it is really worth the extra money. On large parts this will sometimes cause you to loose your vacuum seal on the mold. It is only a matter of time before you are going to leak oil from somewhere and probably even drip oil on your production parts. Since this system is a direct drive that is tied into a micro-switch. If you are using the snapback technique and you are depending on timing to predraw the bubble. you have to have some method of holding the plastic sheet while you have it in the oven heating up. this is an excellent system. CLAMP FRAMES As we indicated earlier. If you are willing to keep up with the necessary maintenance. They have some very distinct advantages. something in the order of 10 inches in diameter to raise the mold properly. In actuality they are rack and pinion drives. it is still not as expensive as the pressure forming package and it is mechanically much more simple than the pressure forming system. it will stop at exactly the same place each time within a thirtysecond of an inch. you will need a large air cylinder. In addition. the more consistent your processing results will be. I can’t think of any except cost. As a matter of fact. This makes your machine more versatile without the added cost of the pressure forming mechanism. In my opinion. This makes it the system of choice in pressure forming situations as the pressure box would stop at the identical spot each time and not cut too deeply into the hot plastic. In my opinion. A third system for moving the platens is a hydraulic system. The first advantage is power. this system will give you the most consistent results. They have been around for many years but they are just now becoming the dominant mode for moving a mold into forming position. This allows you to use the machine as a pressure former if the part is relatively small without investing in a specific pressure forming system. You may also have trouble getting the mold to seat in the same position relative to the clamp frame each time. this can be done with something as simple as two metal frames on a hinge that trap the sheet between them when the mechanism is closed. this system is so consistent that you can tie in the vacuum flow with the plug extension and often times eliminate webbing on difficult parts. As we have discussed. Another advantage is the uniform speed that the platen moves up or down. pressure forming requires tight tolerances in tooling and processing. Typically you will have a platen closing pressure of five tons or more. Typically 51 . Next we would like to discuss chain drive platens. Even though this system is more expensive than a pneumatically driven platen system. It basically has all the advantages of an electrically driven platen system. The more variables you can eliminate from a process. the only criticism I can levy on this system is the simple fact that it is hydraulic. As far as disadvantages are concerned. A second advantage is accuracy. This too is a quite accurate system and gives you an enormous amount of power if you are going to pressure form. if the mold is quite heavy.of the mold.

it is necessary to have good contact with the sheet to the plastic. and it is. Most ovens these days are what we would describe as semi-closed or almost totally closed. So now we have a method of holding the plastic sheet and a way of getting it in and out of the oven. This brings us to the clamp frames themselves.these frames have little nipples welded on the inside surfaces of the frame that are in contact with the plastic sheet that prevent the plastic from pulling out of the frame during the heating cycle. What do we mean by open. This provides a seal that allows the vacuum to evacuate the air in the mold and mold support chamber. the gripping bar sandwiches the plastic sheet between the base plate and the gripping bar. It is usually comprised of two separate entities. After the sheet is heated to the proper temperature. the piano frame mechanism is removed from the oven and the hot plastic is dropped over the mold in such a manner as to pinch the plastic on the inside edge of the frame against the edge of the mold base. Attached to the base plate are small pneumatically operated cylinders that have a gripping bar attached to the cylinders. Consequently. The pneumatically operated clamp frames can be adjusted back and forth on the unistrut and have adjustable blocks for the cross members. Consequently it is not necessary to have a separate frame for each mold base as it is with piano frames. it is not very efficient. On large machines this is normally done with a chain drive. When the cylinder pistons are extended. FORMING OVENS A forming oven is nothing more than a chamber with a heating source. Attached to the inside of the cart on both sides is a unistrut that allows you to adjust the actual clamp frames to the size of the mold base. These ovens can be either open or closed. The first is the actual shuttle cart. closed or semi- 52 . It is simply a large framework similar to a picture frame that covers most of the heating elements in the oven. The only negative is the fact that constant heating and cooling will eventually warp the clamp frames and the seals on the cylinders will ultimately wear out from heat and have to be replaced. We will discuss heating sources shortly. As simple as this all seems. Normally they are comprised of a flat stationary base plate with a vertical support bar underneath it. Most vacuum forming machines have a clamping system that is attached to a shuttle cart that is operated pneumatically. They are usually insulated internally to prevent the heating elements from heating up the outside surface of the oven and making it dangerous. This provides you with good gripping pressure and is very quick and efficient to operate and is far superior to a piano frame. the same warping happens with piano frames and they usually have to be replaced if heavily used too. The pneumatically operated frames can be used for any number of similar sized molds. However. The cart or carriage is moved into or out of the oven area to the forming area by long slender pneumatic cylinders. It is usually supported by some metal wheels that fit into a track and are enclosed from both the top and the bottom to prevent the clamping frame from moving up or down. Most plastics have a built in shrinkage within the sheet that takes effect when the sheet is heated up.

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Obviously this will result in a lot of hot air escaping into the immediate surrounding area which makes these types of ovens sensitive to drafts and air currents that exist within the plant. However. These types of ovens have small gaps in the back of the oven where the clamp frame track extends and gaps in the front of the oven where the door opens and closes. we are only interested in the portion of the spectrum from about 0. They are pretty efficient but do allow some convective air to leak out and heat up the environment outside of the oven. some of this heat is caused from infrared heat waves and is known as radiant heat.72 microns to 1000 microns on the electromagnetic spectrum. However.1 and 8.closed? A perfect example of a closed oven would be an air convection oven. but some are more efficient than others are. Now if we take the same red hot metal rod and hold it a few inches from your skin. If we touch it against a piece of plastic.2. We will address this 54 . Infrared waves have a range of . These ovens are what we would call almost totally enclosed. The oven can be open from one. it will most likely scorch the plastic. HEAT TYPES Before we get into heating elements and how the ovens work. There are only three types of heat. I can assure you that there are a lot of machines built this way and if used properly. CONVECTIVE.000. and RADIANT. Part of this heat is coming from the fact that the rod is heating up the air around it and the hot air is heating up your skin.000 of a meter or about 0. This is an oven that has no air gaps anywhere and has hot air circulating throughout the oven that essentially heats the plastic. The amount of energy radiated by a heater and the wavelength of this energy is determined by a heater’s temperature and the surface area exposed.00004 inches (a human hair is about 50 microns in diameter).1 to 100 microns as this is the region that most of the energy is radiated from a heater we would use to heat up the plastic. as various type of heaters put out different wavelength’s of energy. One micron is equal to 1/1. Various wavelengths of energy exist everywhere but only a few of the wave lengths cause things to heat up and only within certain ranges. This is conductive heat and to be effective. Plastic can be heated by any one. Thus we need to be concerned about the type of heaters we would likely use. Finally we have ovens that are considered open. If we take a red hot metal rod and touch it against your skin it will cause you some immediate consternation. This is convective heat and is usually associated with an air-circulating oven. CONDUCTIVE. Typically they have heating elements on the top and bottom that are encased in some kind of a shell. two or all four sides. See figures 8. There are other ovens that are pretty much closed from all five sides and have a door in front of it that goes up and down as required by the loading process. or all of these heating types. we would like to talk about the types of heat available. you will feel the heat. they work fine. It is probably easier to explain these heats using an example. From a plastics standpoint. A wavelength is measured in microns. this heat source must be only slightly hotter than what you want the item to be heated.

concept in a little more depth shortly but first we need to talk about heating elements available for thermoforming ovens. The most ubiquitous of all elements is the CALROD. Normally this is a 15 second timer. the power input is about 480 volts. Depending on how hot the elements burn. Typically what is done in thermoforming is to put in a percentage timer that turns the power on or off through a certain time sequence. This will be discussed more thoroughly later. In very crude ovens the power is turned on just like a light bulb and you have 100% power input or no power input. Well. Typically these elements are placed in an oven about four inches apart and may run completely from the front to the back of the oven. If the calrod is reasonably new. They are usually grouped together in a ‘bank’ and the temperature of a number of these elements is controlled together. This is not going to be acceptable. This will create a lot of convective heat and will likely scorch the surface of the plastic you are trying to heat. more than five feet from the front to the back. the timer would allow total power to be supplied to the calrod for seven and one-half seconds and no power supplied to the calrod for the other seven and one-half seconds. Generally in the less sophisticated machines you only have standard electrical contactors and cutting down the total timer sequence to two seconds would cut the life of the contactor to one seventh. It is nothing more than a resistance wire packed in magnesium inside a stainless steel tube. and the timer is set at about 50%. and we will try to discuss the ones that are most common. reasonably efficient and reasonably inexpensive. you can expect the actual calrod temperature to be about 775° F to 850° F. the element could burn as hot as 1300° F. HEATING ELEMENTS CALROD There are numerous types of elements used in thermoforming ovens. This is important because at this temperature the wavelength of the radiant energy given off of the calrod is about optimum for the absorption of heat into the plastic. It is very popular in thermoforming because it is quite durable. you ask. If the voltage input is high and the capacity to accept voltage is high. We must do something to adjust this condition. sometimes referred to as KELROD. The calrod elements in a thermoforming oven could all be operated independently on individual timers but this is rarely the case. The shear mass of the calrod would retain enough heat while the power was off to keep the calrod temperature reasonably consistent. It has been determined over time that a 15-second timer is adequate to keep the calrod heat relatively uniform. unless the oven is very large. why don’t you get a shorter timer? Indeed that is what is done when you go to computer controlled relay switches in the more sophisticated ovens. this can be a problem. The reason they are not is simply the amount 55 . Thus if you want to run the calrod at 50% heat. This is the type of heater you find in your electric oven in your kitchen.

This is a total of 56 timers and contactors. Since the radiant energy given off is most effective and absorbed most efficiently when the elements are seven to eight inches from the plastic sheet. Each of these timers is expensive but even more disconcerting would be the number of contactors required. So. say eight inches. If you don’t. This is another concept that is quite important and needs to be explained. NOT PRACTICAL! Consequently. Hence you may loose some vacuum. However. This cuts the number of timers and contactors down to a total of eight or twelve. Since these calrods are round and normally about three-eighths to one-half inch in diameter. a four zone configuration would have an outside zone of about 18 inches all around the periphery of the oven and three zones that are roughly two feet by three feet in size in the interior of the oven. Thus in an oven with a five foot by eight foot clamp frame for plastic sheet and calrods on four inch centers on both the top and bottom. For the five foot by eight foot oven above.of timers that would be required. If the calrods are close together. It is important that the heating elements extend about six inches beyond the maximum sized sheet you can process. You should note that both figures 9 and figure 10 show a six-foot by nine-foot dimension for the heating zone but we are only talking about a five-foot by eight-foot oven. There are a number of ways to group these zones. we typically have four or six groups of elements ‘banked’ together on the top and bottom called zones. If we have six zones in the above oven. Timers usually are quite simple and have a long life but contactors that are opened and closed every five to ten seconds with 480 volts of electricity going through them get a lot more abuse. these concentric circles will not overlap as well and there will be a space between these elements that will not put out as much radiant energy. Much of this is at the discretion of the person purchasing the thermoforming machine or even at the discretion of the machine manufacturer if economics are involved. It all depends on how many zones you have and what the size of the oven is. the fewer replacement parts you will need as they have a limited life. we are likely to configure it like figure 10 but this is not the only way it could be done. there will be an area between these elements that are not being heated as efficiently as the distance is greater than eight inches. these concentric circles will overlap enough to put out a very uniform heat pattern. Well you ask why don’t you just turn up the heat? The answer is this changes the wavelength of the radiant energy and thus the efficiency of absorption into the plastic. the convective heat is given off in all directions but has a tendency to rise. If the calrods are far apart. See figure 9. 56 . the fewer contactors you have. we would have 28 separate elements on the top and 28 on the bottom. the radiant energy waves are given off in all directions too and radiate in overlapping patterns in concentric circles away from the element. the clamp frames will act as a heat sink and keep the edge of the sheet too cold to form with any amount of detail and may even prevent you from sealing the plastic along the mold edge. Earlier we mentioned that these calrods should be located on four-inch centers. This is necessary to heat up the clamp frames.

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58 .

I hate to bust your bubble but no such heating energy source exists. You win some and you loose some! If the calrods were very close together. Since only energy that is absorbed will be useful in heating up the plastic. They can be grouped in a number of patterns but are normally grouped in sets of two or three elements with about an inch of space 59 . And as we indicated earlier. As you can see in figure 11. the more area we can get under the plastic absorption curve the more efficient a heater will heat up a piece of plastic. the wavelengths given off will vary more and cover more of the absorption range of the plastic. See figure 11. This is a commercial for catalytic gas heaters but it depicts what we are trying to explain.95 depending on color. This is my favorite type of heater. At higher temperatures the wavelength shortens up and the amount of radiant energy absorbed in the plastic decreases but the amount of convection heat available increases.2 microns and almost no radiant energy will be absorbed. or reflected off of the plastic. A prime example would be a chrome bumper. If the calrod is run at maximum output. Somewhere between 750°F and 850°F we get the best wavelength from a calrod. Certainly not a calrod. These types of heaters are about two and three quarters of an inch wide and about eleven inches long. Whites are slightly less and blacks are slightly more. The circled line in figure 11 shows this more clearly. Emissivity is also important. Who could afford and oven like this and the operating cost involved? So. A black body will absorb 100% of the radiant energy exposed to it and the emissivity would be 1. The solid line is the percent of radiant energy absorbed by a typical plastic at various wavelengths. say one-half inch apart. If a calrod element is operated at about 800°F.7 microns. Plastic has a normal emissivity of about . at various wavelengths. if it is operated at about 1300°F. what indeed happens in the real world is a compromise between radiant heat absorption and convection heat output balancing out as best as possible. transmitted through the plastic. We will address them in turn. wavelengths are measured in microns of which the greatest absorption is between six and ten microns with a very sharp and narrow absorption point at about 3. At this point we should state that energy is either absorbed in the plastic. Here is where we get to scorch the surface of the plastic and decrease the physical properties. the percentage of absorption will be high through a very narrow range and will likely not cover as much of the absorption range of the plastic. you ran them at the 800°F temperature. However. Who has more fun than thermoformers? There are elements that are more efficient but at a price. your oven would be as efficient as you could expect it to be. So if we could find an energy wavelength point where the absorption would be 100% we could get a heating efficiency of approximately 95%. It has close to 100% reflectivity. 0 emissivity would be 100% reflectance and no radiant energy would be absorbed. Nothing even comes close. say at about 1. plastic is either efficient or inefficient at absorbing this energy. it will glow very red with the energy curve moving way to the left. But OH WHAT convection heat.0.Figure 11 shows the energy absorbed by a typical amorphous plastic at various wavelengths. and they were about seven inches from the plastic. CERAMIC ELEMENTS A second type of heater that is quite popular is the CERAMIC heating element.

However. This is fine for the top oven elements but what do we do about the bottom. we can put the entire oven heating profile on a screen and make subtle changes and view exactly what areas we are affecting. This is where they give off the wavelength of radiant energy that gets the maximum amount of energy absorbed into the plastic. the most efficient distance the elements can be placed from the sheet is about seven to eight inches. BLACK PANEL HEATERS 60 . and as in the case with the calrod gives off both convection and radiant heat. just as the calrod. we have to extend the heating elements about six inches beyond the maximum sized sheet you can process. On some of the newer machines. we can afford to use a lot more of them. So there is an eventual payback. this feature is usually added when ceramic ovens are used on the bottom. Since we are controlling the heating elements with a computer. Thus if you have a material that sags a quite a bit during the heating cycle. This allows you to bank the elements into small groups of two or three elements controlled by a computer. Obviously our total control of the element heat is much better and the size of the individual heating zone is much smaller enabling us to control heat inputs into given areas much better. the actual cost of operating the oven in terms of power usage and expense will be normally reduced by about 25% over a calrod oven. they are made with a resistance wire trapped within a ceramic shell. Ceramic heaters produce the most efficient type of heat known to heat plastic sheet but also allows you to make the most finite temperature adjustments in the smallest areas. As the name indicates. Screening is rarely required and if you need to keep some small given area cooler or hotter to get a better part you can do so. To accommodate these materials. just as with the calrod oven. we are going to need more heating element switches. since the efficiency will be dramatically improved. Obviously this requires more elements in the oven and the cost of the oven will be greater. This is true for all type of heating elements. This is usually accomplished by using a computer controller with solid state relays that operate on a percentage of power output basis. Because there are more elements in the oven. When a current is sent through the wire. you can adjust the oven to be closer to the sheet and heat it more efficiently. However. Complicated parts can be produced more easily. If the material does not sag much or the sheet surface area is small and not much sagging occurs. They are quite close together and much more radiant energy is given off per square foot of oven space. As we indicated above. The whole thing boils down to control. It should also be noted that they operate most efficiently at about 50% and about seven to eight inches away from the plastic sheet. Since these types of relays have a far superior life expectancy.between them. the wire heats up and subsequently heats up the ceramic body. This too adds to the expense of the oven but at some huge gains. you can adjust the oven down. The difference is the space between the heaters. This is a tremendous benefit in time and process efficiency. a feature is being built into the oven whereby you can raise or lower the element distance from the sheet in just seconds.

Thus radiant energy is given off along with convection heat. The smallest panels are usually one foot square but normally they are one foot by three. When the oxygen and gas meet. These heaters operate very similar to ceramic heaters. four. The smallest heater available is one foot square and each heater does require a separate temperature controller. oxygen passes into the pad from the other end. As with the case of ceramic heaters. Natural gas or propane enters a gas tight heater pan and is dispersed through a preheated catalyst pad. Hence they are quite efficient just like ceramic heaters. When you run the temperatures of these panels to the low side. This will be an automatic incentive to reduce the amount of panels and increase their size.A third type of heater that is frequently used in thermoforming is the BLACK PANEL HEATER. However. If you are just looking for productivity and don’t need real tight zone control. this may be your heater of choice. oxidation occurs below the temperature of the flame ignition temperature of the gas. this is not much of a problem. This is my second preference in heat. or five feet. The only drawback is they are much larger and it is not possible to control as small of an area with respect to zones. it is very easy to get an oven heat profile when a computer controller is used. It is also apropos to have the heaters about seven to eight inches from the sheet you are going to heat. they are easier to clean. Basically they consist of a resistance wire imbedded in a routed out ceramic fiber refractory board and covered with a black panel quartz or glass plate to give off radiant and convective heat. This is not an open flame as you might imagine. The optimum temperature is somewhere close to 800°F where the maximum amount of radiant energy is absorbed. they will start a fire just like any other element when they are hot. The top heaters are normally placed from seven to ten inches from the actual sheet. If you do burn up a sheet. On the high end they operate from about 850°F to 900°F. there will be a tendency to not completely fill the panel with gas and oxygen and you may get cold or dead areas. The initial ignition is done with an electric pilot. CATALYTIC GAS In the last few years this has become a reasonably popular choice of heating element for heating plastic sheet. when these dead areas are large enough and these 61 . However. When you are on the low end and the panels do not fill. Each panel is butted together in such a way that there is very little area in the oven that is not covered. The really nice thing about these heaters is they are not likely to be destroyed if you were to accidentally drop a sheet on them. they are just as efficient as ceramic heaters. However. At the same time. To make this work. they operate at about 600°F to 650°F. With the advent of solid state relays and computer controllers. grouping elements together does not make much sense. This is ideal because the radiant energy given off at a temperature of about 750° F is optimal as far as absorption is concerned. Typically when you run these heaters on the low end. Quite honestly. They are already quite large and cover a significant area in the oven. it is necessary to have a gas regulator and feed for each panel that you have in the oven. these dead areas will be about 350° to 400°F.

Heating cycles are as short as one could expect and the fact that there is very little gap between the heaters equates them to ceramic and solar panels. The big concern is the initial cost of installing this system and the maintenance necessary to make sure they are functioning properly. So. They were used pretty extensively fifteen to twenty years ago but have fallen out of favor. These types of elements are also fairly easy to zone. They consist of about a one-half to a three-quarter inch diameter tube with a resistance wire inside of it backed up by an internal reflector. There are two types. We do not recommend this element for thermoforming. When gas heaters are maintained properly they are very efficient for the same reasons given with ceramic and solar panel heaters. This allows you to get the radiant energy wavelength to the most efficient it can be for this type of element. Most of the heat is convection and very harsh. QUARTZ HEATERS This is another fairly popular heating element for thermoforming ovens. Thus the wavelength of the radiant energy is more medium range and is more effective than the above quartz element. This is particularly true when you run laminates that require different forming temperatures on each side of the sheet. The result is an area of about twelve inches by sixteen inches that is controlled by one heater bank. why don’t you just turn up the heat all the way so the panels totally fill? This is great for olefin materials but on many amorphous materials this does not work. You may also go through the forming range too quickly and not be able to form a good part. which is merely a transparent quartz tube with a heating element running through it that is under vacuum. They are also pretty fragile. These heaters do not glow white as the above heaters but have more of an amber glow to them. This may have been an additional reason for their demise. for sensitive materials it is mandatory that maintenance be kept up on these heaters to assure that you will not have any dead spots at the lower temperature ranges. It is also possible to control them with timers or solid state relays so that the temperature can be adjusted up or down. as you cannot turn them down to a low enough heat. These heaters glow with an extremely hot almost white light. This is an extremely short wavelength and is not good for radiant energy absorption for plastics. Thus. Some materials are not possible to process at all with these heaters. The other type of quartz heater is a quite a bit more popular although not as much as some of the above heaters. One is a ‘white light quartz’ heater.elements are that close to the sheet. It is not uncommon to be about a third of the cost of operating a calrod heating system and about two-thirds the cost of ceramic system. The huge plus for these heaters is the energy cost of operation. You just have to weigh the pluses and minuses. Well you say. you will have trouble heating sensitive materials as there will be some cold spots that steel material from hot spots when you are trying to thermoform the sheet. They cannot take full heat and will scorch and/or loose properties. 62 . Quite often you see three or four elements about a foot long banked as a group about four inches apart. They are either totally on or totally off and give off a temperature of 1200° to 1400°F. Fortunately the bottom heaters are further away from the sheet and this affect will be less severe with them even if you have dead spots.

these people often opt for single sided heaters that are made of nichrome wire. These wires are usually attached to an on and off timer just as a calrod element would be and the electricity is on for a period of time and off for a period of time. similar to calrod elements. NICHROME WIRE Nichrome wire is another type of heater that is used in the industry. Second. these types of elements are installed as four to six foot long tubes. Why? Because the element is completely exposed to the air and therefore deterioration will occur more quickly. there are still a lot of machines out there with nichrome wire heaters. The wire does not have enough mass to hold the heat. When the same kind of a timer is used for nichrome wire. Most of the heat used is convection heat. In other instances. the wire cools off very quickly and looses its red glow. It is basically a resistance wire and is coiled up like a thin spring. because it is inexpensive to make an oven with nichrome wire. 63 . However.your oven control can be similar to ceramic or solar panel heaters. the element glows red and the wavelength is not at the optimum temperature for heating the plastic. when the timer is on. All this said. It is essentially toaster wire that is spaced about four inches apart with 220 or 440 volts of electricity sent through it. It is especially popular with people that are involved in thermoforming signs. I have seen them employed at good forming houses. They are just as economical to operate as catalytic gas and are less costly to install. you are right back where you started in the sense that you have less oven control in heating the sheet. If the open flame is very controllable in terms of BTU output and the heaters are positioned well so there are no heating gaps. the mass of the element will cause it to hold a reasonably consistent temperature. The difference between a calrod and nichrome wire is the length of glow. the nichrome wire responds almost instantly and goes to a red glow. There are constant trade-offs that need to be made in terms of cost or efficiency. Obviously this does not afford as much oven control as the smaller banks. with three to four elements on a single controller. If the part is reasonably simple. Typically they burn out more easily and will require more frequent replacement. When the timer is off. they can work OK. Their primary benefit is economy. First. When a calrod is on this kind of a timer. This causes two issues. The slight decrease in efficiency comes from the fact that the elements are about four inches apart and there isn’t as much radiant energy given off. This makes them less efficient than some of the other heaters. there are short periods when the elements are cooling off dramatically compared to other heaters and almost no heat is given off. Why. OPEN FLAME GAS This is still used as a heat source in forming plastic sheet and can be a reasonable method for this purpose. It does require fewer relay switches and therefore cuts the cost of oven construction.

Versatility is not the by-word here. You can look at the elements and see hot spots and misalignment. AIR CONVECTION OVENS This is an often-neglected type of heat source for thermoforming plastic sheet. it will have the best chance of running this way. Also. Some things such as foam core materials are best formed via this type of heat. There are some plastic materials that just do not respond well to this type of heat. This will cause them to process poorly in the thermoforming process and will result in a substantial loss in physical properties. It could also result in poor material distribution on the finished part or uneven flow during the actual forming technique being employed. In many cases. If the material is used fairly quickly after extrusion. This can be more counterproductive than useful. Careful thought needs to be given to measure economy versus utility and versatility. The normal mind-set is that you need some kind of a machine with a heating source to form plastic sheet. There is also a problem with control. most likely it will process OK. if you need to employ significantly less heat to one side of the sheet as opposed to the other. especially with the advent of catalytic gas heaters. If you have wet stock. depending on the thickness. Most amorphous plastics are hydroscopic and will absorb atmospheric moisture over time even if they are packaged well. pre-drying plastic sheet. The largest thermoforming job I have ever witnessed was done by hand forming with multiple molds. it is very easy to keep gloss levels low and consistent. All you really need is a box with a uniform heat source and a method of hanging the sheet in the box. It certainly is not preferred over most machine operations but it is an option. Because the heat is all convection heat. with the exception of 64 .The problem is much of the time they are not installed correctly and they are not maintained properly. This is not necessarily so. Next you set the ‘oven’ at the normal forming temperature of the sheet. you have the same problem. pull it out of the ‘oven’ and form it over a mold connected to a vacuum line. I personally am not a big fan of these heaters but I know some good forming houses that are quite successful with them. put it into the ‘oven’ for ten to fifteen minutes. PRE-DRYING MATERIAL This gives us a good segue into another phenomenon that is very important in processing plastics. Some materials need to be heated very slowly and it is not possible to turn these types of heaters lower than a certain level. it is just not finite enough. It is also a great method of prototyping. How often do you here of moisture blistering out of an air convection oven? It can happen but it is rare. The benefit here is a uniform gentle heat. There are certain parts that can be hand formed better than any machine could ever do. This type of heating source has largely come out of favor.

You can even build your own oven if you are mechanically resourceful.1% but preferably down to . We only listed polycarbonate and ABS because they are so prevalent and are likely to need drying. There are a lot of oven manufacturers out there that have designed their ovens to make this happen. Space does not allow us to list all materials and their drying times and temperatures but you can contact your material supplier for this information. Very likely these materials will set around in relatively humid conditions and absorb moisture that will prevent you from processing them properly. with the exception of the olefinics. This moisture must be driven off. running it through the vaporization point of water too quickly could cause some microscopic fracturing of the surface finish. will need to be dried. You are just trying to bring in air that has a propensity to hold more moisture at higher temperatures and get rid of air that has already increased in relative humidity. in the real world. I am a little bit wary of the 250° F for the polycarbonate because if the sheet is extremely saturated with moisture. However.polycarbonate which will absorb moisture almost immediately even if protected. all does not flow smoothly. As an example. polycarbonate resin suppliers will suggest oven-drying temperatures of 250°F. most of them. I am more prone to use 220°F to 230°F even though it may extend the drying a little beyond the suggested time on the drying table. It should be noted that more efficient drying would occur in an oven that allows some to the moisture that is evaporated off the sheet to escape from the oven.07%. So if the material is used on a timely fashion. Generally speaking. For ABS the suggested temperatures are between 180°F to 200°F. ABS can absorb up to . 65 . See table 2. but if left in severe enough conditions. This will have to be done at various times and temperatures depending on the heat distortion points of the specific plastics involved. everything will go well and life will be good. you must get that moisture content down to less than . It is not that complicated.2% of moisture and in order to thermoform it properly. We have included a chart for the required drying times for polycarbonate and ABS at specific thicknesses. Various materials will absorb moisture at various rates and various amounts.

66 .

Why? Well. the area that is slightly hotter will allow the material to thin out a little more than the area that is a little cooler. The reason for this is the mold will simply not handle any more parts than is capable of being made on a single station machine. This speed is largely dependent on the type of material you are processing. At a 30% 67 . we need a method of limiting the heat to a certain small area.SCREENING Screening is a viable and often necessary process in thermoforming. If temperature controlled tooling is not used. If you have a large amount of parts to make. An epoxy mold simply cannot take away any more heat than a certain amount. These cycles assume you will be using temperature-controlled tooling. At any rate. Screening is nothing more than taking a piece of window screen and placing it over some heating elements in a certain area to screen out some heat. an epoxy mold will yield approximately 30% fewer parts. the type of heating elements you are using in your thermoforming machine. Usually I like to make the cut off at 3000 parts per year. However. as the natural sag of the material will cause the center of the blank to get closer to the elements and become excessively hot. it is getting to be a lost art. CYCLES The speed at which we can process various materials is always important to the thermoformer. This will cause the plastic to be slightly cooler in the screened area and therefore when the material is stretched over the tool. On a single station machine. screening allows us to do all of these things when the thermoforming machine is not capable of this type of heat differentiation. it may be necessary to keep the center of the sheet cooler to keep the whole thing uniform. Why is this necessary? If you have a machine with a minimum of heating zones. It is all a matter of cooling. each zone will cover a quite large area. and because of excellent zoning and efficient heating elements. Table 3 shows some machine cycles of three common materials using a single station machine and a rotary thermoformer. but you will get the same 30% less parts you get on the single station machine. and the integrity and efficiency of the machine itself. the thickness of the material you are using. Since all the heat in this area will be approximately the same. it is not required as often as it was in the past. if an epoxy mold is used on a rotary machine. Sometimes it is necessary to keep the center of the blank cooler. Any number of screens can be placed in a given area to screen out more or less heat. the machine cycles shown on table 2 don’t mean anything. vacuum forming machines are getting more and more sophisticated. However. you will not get 30% less parts than you get with a temperature controlled mold on this machine. it just makes sense to get temperature controlled tooling even if it is three to four times as expensive. Since the clamp frame around the periphery of the sheet will act as a heat sink.

68 .

Chemical Resistance (what chemicals affect it and how much). All materials possess characteristics that we describe as physical properties. The result is you have 30% more time that is freed up to run other production.difference in productivity. can the material be made physically by the extruder in terms of gauge. Impact strength (how much abuse can the material take before it breaks). It will not chip and crack as easy but it will scratch and abrade much easier. temperature controlled tooling will get you 3000 parts while you run 2000 parts with an epoxy tool. Here are some general characteristics we are likely to be concerned about when selecting a specific plastic for a specific application. Stiffness (measuring one material as compared to another in terms of relative stiffness). etc so that the vacuum former can actually get the material? Fourth. In the plastics industry we have devised a way of testing these materials to provide a clue as to what might happen when they are used in a particular application. It is important from a number of perspectives. does the material allow you to meet the tolerances and consistency required to process it effectively? Let us address these issues and determine where different materials might be appropriate. what are the long-term effects of the environment on the material? And finally. flow characteristics. chipping or cracking). Not so fast my good kitchen chemist friend! It is not that simple. Let’s take impact strength as an example. Coefficient of Thermal Expansion (how much something expands or contracts in a given temperature). This will give you the impact strength you want but it will automatically make the material less stiff and softer. It is also likely that the heat distortion temperature will be slightly reduced and you will have 69 . Mold Shrinkage (how much a plastic shrinks after it is demolded). Suppose we want to obtain the maximum possible impact on ABS material. Heat Deflection (at what temperature can the material be exposed to before it distorts). does the material meet the physical characteristics of what we might call “field function?” Secondly. size. Hardness (what is the materials resistance to abrasion. First. Forming Range (what temperature a plastic can be processed) etc. The ASTM (American Standard Test Methods) is a governing body that oversees testing methods that measure these properties to give you an idea if a material is feasible for an application. These are all characteristics that affect how a product will perform in a given application. MATERIALS This is the fourth major component of what we consider is important in making a successful part. This would give you a notched izod of about 12 foot pounds. Thermal Conductivity (how much heat can be conducted through the material). just give me maximum properties in each category and I’ll be covered. Flammability (does the substance burn or not). Specific gravity (how much something weights compared to the weight of water and to each other). does the material possess processing characteristics that allow you to make the part? Third. Almost all of these physical properties are in direct conflict with at least one other property. To do this we will have to load up the formula with a high amount of rubber. Well you say.

a very user-friendly material. however. It cracks very easily without much effort at all. This does allow you to use it in numerous additional applications such as food containers. Consequently. The addition of the rubber to the formula does increase the impact properties of the HIPS but at a cost. window shutters. Polystyrene is a throwaway type material or a material to be used in more decorative applications as opposed to functional applications. shower walls. Polystyrene is the result of polymerizing the styrene monomer into a long polystyrene chain. make the part thicker to maintain the same stiffness. We just pointed it out to confirm a previous statement that changing the physical properties of a material does require you to make choices or tradeoffs with other physical characteristics. Witness all the plastic throw-a-way cups that you see. It is. picture frames. we have a variety of materials that are available for thermoforming and it is proper that care be exercised in selecting a material that will be the most appropriate one in terms of function and cost for a specific application. It is also reprocessable and if kept clean. namely clarity. We will review a number of these materials and give you some of the pluses and minuses for each specific material in regard to function and application. can be used in any number of other things such as toys. It is also notable that different materials give you vastly different physical properties when compared to each other. By adding a little rubber to polystyrene we get a material that is a little more resistant to cracking and breaking but only marginally so. This gives us a clear plastic that is very moldable by a number of molding methods (that is. injection molding. refrigerator shelves. The big pluses are that it is relatively cheap and quite easy to process. Although quite useful for numerous applications. This material is ideal for this application. It is quite often said that if you can’t form the material out of HIPS. This brings us to the next material on the food chain. As a rule this is of no consequence. HIPS HIPS is better known as High Impact Polystyrene and is a hybrid of polystyrene. The material is clear so you can see what you have in the cup and the heat distortion of the material is about 200° Fahrenheit so you will be able to hold any liquid that you could possible drink. blow molding. it either can’t be formed at all or you thoroughly don’t know what you are doing in regards to thermoforming. observe how easy it is to crush a polystyrene cup. and thermoforming). However. POLYSTYRENE This is one of the most ubiquitous plastics you will ever run into. So to make the material more functional you have given up something. The material is no longer clear. HIPS does not provide properties that are useful in physically abusive applications. Thus you see there are always trade-offs. So it is not feasible to use this material to make a shell for a musical instrument case where it would likely take substantial abuse. 70 .

Typically it is about . etc. but there are a lot of people out there who regretted their decision to cut this corner. The sandblasted surface will help the plastic to maintain a better contact to the mold surface to help you get more consistent cooling. The real difference here is the stiffness of the material. you should strongly consider these three factors. There are literally hundreds of applications that these materials are suited for. all of them can be made that way by providing them with a chemical additive that will protect them from the environment for some period of time. The downside is the cosmetic deficiencies of these products along with their dimensional stability. They are all quite chemically resistant and are highly resistant to impact and are fairly economical. As you can see. It too is crystalline in nature but is made by polymerizing the propylene monomer. When you are considering producing a polyethylene part. POYLPROPYLENE This is a material that is similar to polyethylene in its properties. (That is the amount of shrinkage the part goes through after it is removed from the tool). It you need a part that requires reasonably tight tolerances in regard to size or shape this is not your material. As I indicated. The reason is simple.POLYETHYLENE Polyethylene is a completely different chemistry in regards to plastic. polyethylene is very sensitive to cooling stresses. It requires a good deal of thought when designing the mold and selecting the thermoforming technique to make the part. They all have somewhat different properties but do have a few characteristics in common. However. The addition of the moat will give you multiple sealing edges and help resist this tendency. The typical applications would be tote bins. polyethylene has high mold shrinkage. If you normally only form HIPS or ABS parts. the living hinge characteristic of the material and the slightly 71 . pallets. tanks. of course. Is this more expensive? Yes. Even though polyethylene can give you some interesting processing experiences. Thus while it is cooling. get the finished tool sandblasted. Secondly. Invest in a temperature-controlled tool. feed bins.030 inches per inch. truck bed liners. and have a moat put around the edge of the tool flange. you are in for a real shock when proceed to form polyethylene parts. all of these applications require the material to take a good deal of abuse but do not require high dimensional tolerances or cosmetic perfection. There are numerous varieties of polyethylene from Low Density Polyethylene to Linear Low Density Polyethylene to High Density Polyethylene to High Molecular Weight High Density Polyethylene. Thermoforming polyethylene is a different matter. It is a crystalline material made by polymerizing the ethylene monomer into long chains. Polyethylene is very sensitive to cooling stresses and in almost all cases you should have a temperature-controlled mold to make the part. It should be noted that these materials are not necessarily UV stable for outdoor applications. It has some marvelous physical properties that are extremely useful in some products. there will be a strong tendency for the plastic to shrink and break the vacuum seal on the mold. it should not be shied away from.022 to .

This is not totally true but is reasonably accurate. This includes price! Suppose HIPS does not meet the physical requirements necessary for a specific product but high impact ABS is an over specification. The above materials are all thought of as more or less commodity type materials. This is usually a low impact ABS material that is at least twice as impact resistant as HIPS and perfectly adequate for this application. The most common of these is ABS. it is often sold as a copolymer in conjunction with polyethylene. It has the same dimensional stability problem polyethylene has but it does have a high heat distortion point and is stiffer. That is. For this reason. ABS ABS is another ubiquitous term to plastics. New kinds of combinations are being engineered all the time. so there are some situations where it is preferred. As an engineered plastic. We can compound a material that meets the requirements necessary and keeps the price as economical as possible. A perfect example is refrigerator door panel material. 72 . These cases really get a lot of abuse and it makes good sense to make them out of some high impact ABS material.lighter weight. It is even harder to process using the thermoforming processing system. It is a combination of a number of polymers that are mixed together to get specific types of physical properties or to optimize certain properties. There are literally dozens of grades of ABS’s with different combinations of physical properties that meet all kinds of physical requirements. So what do we mean by an engineered plastic? (In some circles ABS is not considered and engineered plastic) Generally speaking an engineered plastic is not a simple polymerized polymer. So let us get into an area where physical properties have a much higher priority. high impact ABS is more expensive than medium or low impact ABS. etc. Another example might be musical instrument cases. we can custom make a resin to have the optimum physical characteristics we are looking for. Thus they are pretty price sensitive and unless you are looking for specific physical properties one high density polyethylene can be substituted for another just as one styrene material can be substituted for another. This can be done right at the chemical reactor in the manufacturing of the resin or it can be physically mixed this way in a banbury mixing operation where the various ingredients are forced mixed together. acid tanks. This makes processing it slightly easier. After all. So don’t give up on it. the physical properties of this material are generally superior across the board. Some typical applications for vacuum forming are tool cases with living hinges built into them. It is much more widely used in injection molding than in thermoforming. It stands for Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene which are the three components that make up ABS. food containers. but as with polyethylene it has some physical characteristics that are only attainable with this material. Why would we do all this? Well. This is the class of plastics generally known as engineered plastics. you can get them from one manufacturer as well as another and they will essentially be the same.

The same can be said for flame resistancy. So match the type of ABS to product requirements. Typically this is accomplished by putting a protective cap layer over the ABS. you must protect the surface of the plastic from the UV rays of the sun by putting a protective coating on the plastic. you should know the environment in which it is going to be used. it is wise to select an ABS that will tolerate this type of heat. When you heat PVC up to a thermoforming temperature. This is primarily because it is a little more difficult to process PVC using the thermoforming process than it is to process some of the other materials such as ABS or Styrene. Even in its hot state. but it is somewhat naturally flame resistant. If the material has poor hot strength.ABS‘s are used in a myriad of products. If you are going to expose the material to an environment where temperatures reach 200° Fahrenheit. Hot strength is a much-ignored phenomenon in the extrusion and thermoforming industry. PVC is stiffer than ABS and it is much less notch sensitive than ABS or polycarbonate. Well. They are also more resistant to staining. it is not likely to last six months before loosing most of its impact properties. Secondly. However. essentially when you heat plastic sheets within the parameters of a clamp frame. It is not really an engineered plastic but in the realm of thermoforming it is kind of considered an engineered plastic. First of all. ABS is a fine product and there are a lot of fine ABS materials out there. this material softens up dramatically and some of its hot strength is lost. instrument panels on buses. With all these potential issues. 73 . Consequently. when you prestretch a material with a vacuum. but it will have much less tendency to stretch back when the vacuum is released in its hot state before it is actually formed unto a mold. it is one of the most chemical resistant of all amorphous materials. So there are applications where PVC would be a much-preferred material over the other two. So what does that mean? Well. It can also be a very cosmetic product. it is much more chemically resistant than materials such as polycarbonates or ABS’s. PVC does not posses nearly the hot strength as ABS. if this is an outdoor application. and literally thousands of other parts. it is mandatory that before you select a specific ABS. For instance. PVC has a number of physical properties that make it attractive as a material of choice for some products. you may have difficulty getting rid of the excess material to prevent webbing. especially when it is slightly overheated. Although it would not be recommended as an outdoor product without the UV additive. it will have some memory to shrink or stretch back when you release the vacuum. they will sag. not only will it sag considerably more. RV fenders. it is somewhat UV resistant in its natural state. if you have parts with fairly large areas with shallow draws. cases of all types. You could not recommend it for this application without adding a flame inhibitor. Some examples are bath tubs. as it turns out. It also has very high room temperature impacts. Although not as chemically resistant as the olefins. Thus the sag will lessen somewhat. If ABS is exposed to direct harsh sunlight such as in Florida without UV protection. why would someone persist in using PVC as a forming material? Well. PVC PVC is an acronym for Polyvinyl Chloride.

It can be made suitable for outdoor applications by adding the UV protective cap and as with most amorphous plastics. this material is very cosmetic and because of its flow characteristics. mass transportation. And it is flame-resistant meeting most UL requirements. it is a premium material with excellent all around physical properties but no material is a panacea. painted or partially painted. it is not as stiff as straight PVC. This alloy is used in more various applications that are highly cosmetic than most materials I can think of. and a whole host of other products. This material has its place in the plastics industry but it is more often used in combinations with other materials to make up plastic alloys. Many of the most esthetically pleasing parts produced through pressure forming are made of this material. Remember what we said about trade-offs. Again. you give something. Because it is an alloy. Well. if it is compounded right. usually with a flame retardant added to it. and solvent or mechanically bonded. it will hold the tightest tolerances on a part for part basis. it is an extremely user friendly material. Secondly. PVC/ABS This is the first of the plastic alloys we want to discuss. shower surrounds. kick panels. this material has more all around pluses on physical characteristics than most. Some classical examples are electronic housings. medical equipment covers. moldings. Provided you form it and demold it at the same temperature consistently. this is the material that will get the job done. When you get something. So what are the advantages of a material like this? First of all. It takes an impression off of a textured tool better than most any material you can get. It is just what the acronym describes. it is a combination of various proportions of PVC and Acrylic usually with a flame inhibitor added. it can be silk-screened.Some applications are bathtubs. it really lends itself well to the pressure forming process. Depending on what physical properties you are trying to achieve will dictate just what these proportions are. If a part is formable with a flame-retardant material. aircraft. Sounds like this material is the best thing since ‘sliced bread’. display cases and numerous other applications where cosmetics and durability are required. depending what physical properties you wish to attain will dictate what additives you will 74 . decorative fascia. It is especially amenable to EMI shielding without giving up much of its impact strength. Both the end product user and the processor should be very comfortable with this product. a combination of PVC and ABS in various proportions. Generally speaking though. but it is higher than PVC. It also does not have a heat distortion point as high as ABS. A third plus is the dimensional stability of the material after it is formed. The hot strength and formability of this material are excellent. PVC/ACRYLIC This is another very good alloy product and as the wording suggests.

In regards to chemical and stain resistance. this is probably the best material available outside of the olefins. There are a number of these mechanisms available. even steel if you get it hot enough. specific grades of this alloy are compounded in such a fashion as to give off a light smoke that you can partially see through enough to get to an exit. of course. the base resins used in these formulas will usually burn quite readily. Some other favorable physical characteristics that are indigenous to this alloy are high impact resistance and good chemical resistance. There are a lot of good uses for this product though. electronic housings. This is really high. here is where customizing the physical properties of a material to a specific niche market or product comes heavily into play. They prefer to have a smoke suppressant in the formula to limit the amount of smoke that is given off when the material burns. However. The heat distortion on this material is none too good. This is especially true since you can tweak the formula in so many ways to meet certain specifications. 75 . around one foot-pound. with the flame resistant inhibitor in it. Everything burns. This general alloy is altered in more ways to meet a specific requirement than any material I can think of. For instance. they work. but this is not really the place to discuss them. etc. Well since we can’t get rid of smoke when something burns. they give off a black smoke. There are formulas of this alloy available that meet specific UMPTA guidelines for mass transportation. Does it have any drawbacks? Yes. It is also a very stiff material for a plastic and sometimes you can down gauge your part and still get adequate structural feel. This brings up another point. The notched izod room temperature impacts are around 15 foot pounds. the cold temperature impacts (-20° Fahrenheit) are only so-so. bathware. mass transportation parts. when general grades of ABS plastics burn. This can sometimes be a problem when it is used in helicopter interiors. it too is usually a very user-friendly material. This is unacceptable to a person trying to get out of a subway car when you have a fire as it gets kind of tough to see through black smoke. However. This is a fine material and can be silk-screened. painted or glued just like the PVC/ABS alloy. A flame resistant plastic in and of itself will not support combustion. Suffice it to say. Some product areas that come to mind again are. medical equipment covers. As with the PVC/ABS alloy. For instance. The point is a flame resistant material will stop burning when the material supporting combustion is removed. somewhere between 155° and 170° Fahrenheit depending on how the material is compounded. There are a lot of pluses here so don’t be afraid to use this product. Is this clever or what? The aircraft industry has a different idea as to what a flame resistant material should be.use and what proportions of PVC to Acrylic will be appropriate. aircraft interiors. The chemical mechanisms that are employed in these formulas are what suppress this burning. Depending on how it is compounded. it is more flame resistant at lower gauges than most any other flame resistant plastics available. However. this material can be capped with the UV protective coating to make it acceptable for outdoor use.

The first such property is its chemical resistance. Because of its high heat distortion point and the sharp glass transition point. it may scratch and scuff more than glass and take away from its optical properties. It is also use extensively as lenses for eyeglasses. It is very sensitive to such things as oil and gasoline and a number of other harsh chemicals.POLYCARBONATE Although this is not an alloy material. Even though the material is quite hard. but they are not quite as sensitive. If you want to have an opaque material. this material will normally require temperature controlled tooling to avoid chill marks. This material can be made UV resistant and frequently it is used in these types of applications. you can even stand on these skylights although it is not suggested that you do so. A second problem is the processability of polycarbonate. you can do that too. Then again it does some things that these materials can’t. there are thousands of applications where chemical sensitivity does not come into play. We have all seen windows that you can effect see out of but not into. That is not to say that plastics such as ABS are not sensitive too. Although not as expensive as some of the highly engineered plastics. it is definitely more expensive than ABS or ABS/PVC materials. Among some of the other physical characteristics that make this material very useful is its toughness. It is much less prone to fracturing or breaking. It can be purchased as a perfectly clear material that you can see through just as well as standard window glass material. it sounds like this material is a panacea for plastics. Most of the skylights in houses and motels etc. it is necessary to get rid of this moisture or it will cause tiny blisters throughout the surface of the finished part and weaken its structural integrity. Not exactly! It is very good but there are some properties and characteristics about polycarbonate that are not fantastic. Because it is very stiff. It is commonly found in applications that receive a lot of physical abuse. There are lots of parts made from solidly pigmented polycarbonate. about 270° Fahrenheit. Since it is quite hydroscopic. Since these parts are formed with entirely different forming techniques. This material can be pigmented slightly to give a smoky effect to screen out bright sunlight or provide for privacy. Sometimes this is an impediment in itself. it is the material that is used in the bullet proof encasements that you see at gas stations that provide safety for an employee in the late hours of the evening. are made from UV resistant polycarbonate. This material also has a high heat distortion point. The most immediate characteristic that comes to mind is its clarity. Polycarbonate also requires drying before you use it in the thermoforming process. It is not limited to clear applications either. this added expense can be avoided. 76 . Obviously this is above the boiling point of water and so you can use it in areas where other plastics just don’t make it. Industrial guards and amusement game housings come to mind. The one exception is the polycarbonate part that will be used for skylights. This brings us to the cost of the material. As a matter of fact. However. So nothing is a panacea. it is considered to be an engineered plastic because of some of its unique physical characteristics. Well.

Although it is only slightly cheaper. So what do we have here. Although the chemical resistance is slightly improved over polycarbonate. another panacea? Nope! Just another good product to meet a number of important physical properties. flame resistant applications where free chlorine gas given off from PVC is a problem. and parts requiring stiff walls. It is not used as extensively in vacuum forming. heat shields in electronic assemblies. are for skylights. This makes the material easier to form and you may not have to use a temperature-controlled mold depending on how difficult the geometry of the part is. That said. Although they are somewhat down from straight polycarbonate (270° Fahrenheit). Some of the more popular uses. is the gain in processability. it is a combination of polycarbonate resin mixed with ABS resin in various proportions to get physical properties that best match what are required in the end product. as suggested.Polycarbonate is an extremely heavily used material in the injection-molding process for a myriad of products. If indeed you thermoform this material reasonably soon after it has been extruded. you may not have to dry it to make it work at all. etc. situations where you need flame retardancy and high heat distortion. This is almost never true with straight polycarbonate. Another thing you give up is clarity. however. it is cheaper. shrouds used on assemblies that are next to high heat sources. POLYCARBONATE/ABS Here is another good product. the poor man’s polycarbonate. So what are these delightful compromises? The most obvious one and the one that grabs the most attention is cost. you are less likely to get chill marks. The biggest plus. Obviously this product has some limitations. All in all. Since you have reduced the sharpness of the glass transition point and you do not have to heat the material quite as hot to make it form. they do have values of somewhere between 240° and 250° Fahrenheit as opposed to straight ABS with values of about 200° Fahrenheit. Just as the name suggests. This material has some excellent qualities and should be utilized more. it is very useful in a lot of applications. Some of them are electronic housings where heat build up is an issue. Because of the ABS component. Another plus is the heat distortion numbers. depending on how you compound the polycarbonate/ABS formula. it is nowhere near as good as the PVC/Acrylic material and you may still have to dry the material to form it if you let it lie around. 77 . this too is a good product and should be considered in the product applications. Additional uses are light covers. Some other pluses are derived from the fact that this combination of resin holds much of its original stiffness and toughness. The chemical resistance of the polycarbonate/ABS material is slightly improved and it can be formulated in such a way as to make it flame resistant too. this product can no longer be made clear or even translucent.

this material is more dimensionally stable on the mold and will warp less after it is demolded than other olefins. There you have it. This material can also be made UV resistant. Thus you can see if you have a part that is somewhere around three feet by three feet in dimension. and the stiffness and heat distortion compared to other olefins. As is the case with copolymer polypropylene. Generally speaking though. On this material the mold shrinkage normally varies between .030 inches per inch. that is.TPO An acronym standing for thermoplastic olefin. Once you draw it down into the vacuum box. to get it to its proper forming temperature will automatically cause it to sag a lot in the clamp frame and there is nothing you can do about it. This is the material that is becoming massively popular on car bumpers. And did we mention chemical resistance? Because this material is olefin based. The polypropylene is basically mixed with the EPDM rubber to get the TPO engineered plastic. diene monomer. Normally on an olefin it is common to get values of about . it has its drawbacks. However. the material in the clamp frame will probably sag at least a foot. they will completely shatter if impacted or dropped. everything you ever wanted to know about a TPO and were afraid to ask.022 to . it will just 78 . It is easier to work with than regular copolymer polypropylene but not much. It is not what I would call a userfriendly material. Most plastics are past their embrittlement point at this temperature.013 inches per inch. TPO’s are virtually indistructive. Some of these formulas can be compounded in such a fashion that you get a no-break on a drop weight test at -50° Fahrenheit. The stiffness of these compounds is increased by about 50% over other olefins and again through careful reformulation. the more highly sought after properties are the high impact strength. This is much higher than is normal for an olefin. This EPDM rubber is an ethylene. So if you have a relatively flat part with these dimensions you will very likely get webbing as there will be nowhere for the material to go. As a result. you can get heat distortion points of 220° F. Essentially what it is comprised of is a polypropylene resin in combination with an EPDM rubber. gas. but it is better to go through the paint scenario above. This can either be done in a reactor or by physically mixing these components together. oil. As an added bonus it is paintable. you have to put certain additives into the formula and you have to first cover the part with a primer coat that is an adhesion promoter that is compatible with the additive. The material will not respond to snapback either. So why would we ever want to go through all this trouble? Well it turns out that TPO has some very interesting physical characteristics and these characteristics can be altered slightly or dramatically by changing the type of polypropylene and by putting various additives into the formula. it is an ideal material to be used where harsh chemicals.011 and . Then you can paint the part with any normal paint such as one that is urethane based. just like other materials. especially at cold temperatures. Another interesting sidelight is the mold shrinkage values you get. To get paint to stick. and other types of solvents come in contact with it. propylene.

Why doesn’t this happen in the summer? Well in summer the air is more humid and the moisture surrounding your body does not allow enough voltage to build up within your body to force a discharge. Generally speaking. the resistance or ohms was very low. The surfactant in the plastic attracts enough moisture so that an electric charge cannot build up on itself so that a discharge can occur. Conductive plastics actually conduct a small current that does not allow electricity to build up within itself. just use it where it fits. Don’t get excited! You won’t get electrocuted. We do this by putting a specific type of carbon fiber in a plastic matrix. However. This is light years in electrical time. Typically the discharge time is about two hundreds of a second. HMWHDPE. That requirement is best left to injection molders. This sounds like a lot. As you might imagine. and straight PVC. the charge will never get to the parts in the box. kick panels. it is immediately discharged. it is not uncommon for a person walking on a rug to build up a charge within their body. If you are storing electrically sensitive materials in a conductive plastic box. but the amperage was very low and because the air was very dry. there will be 79 . This is not the case with a conductive plastic. When you touch a doorknob. Let your imagination run away with you but don’t forget about the processing restrictions you may have regarding part geometry. but it is not practical to thermoform this many parts. The common plastic materials that are made conductive are HIPS. Normally plastics are non-conductive or what we might refer to as insulative. ABS/PVC. Some other uses are wheel wells on trucks. it is likely that the voltage of this discharge was somewhere around 4000 volts. Wow. If the temperatures are too low. especially when they are loaded with these fibers. They do not conduct electricity in the same fashion as copper wire. CONDUCTIVES Conductives are plastics that will actually conduct electricity. In winter when the relative humidity is low. the discharge is very mild and very slow. It will not spring back when you release the vacuum and if you draw the material too deep into the vacuum box. If the shock you get is unpleasant. TPO has a lot of uses. it is really gaining great favor in the use of car bumpers. it will not build up a static charge. This is essentially what happens with a static dissipative plastic. ABS. you will again get webbing. ABS/HDPE. gear covers. As we just suggested. Thus if any charge comes in contact with the plastic.stay there. we can vary the range of conductivity in plastics from an insulative material to something that is considered totally conductive with a resistivity of ten to the minus fourth ohms per square. Let me give you an example. what does this all mean? Essentially it means that as long as the piece of plastic is grounded. ten to the fourth or ten to the fifth ohm per square. harsh chemical shields. Because of the high resistivity. However. bus bumpers make sense for thermoformers. rock shields under vehicles. some of these materials run better than others. it is necessary to run these materials at a hotter temperature during the vacuum forming process to maintain their conductivity. you experience a discharge of electricity from your body to the doorknob. etc. It’s a great material.

This could get kind of expensive not to mention frustrating for computer customers. they have also gotten more sensitive to static charges. they are being used more and more in outside applications. However. That means they will be exposed to the ultra-violet rays of the sun and break down. The ultra violet rays of the sun attack the carbon bonds in plastic polymers and break them up into shorter chains. This is after adding impact modifiers. A prime example of this phenomenon is seen with the olefins. although not as well as carbon black. Again putting a heavy level of carbon black in the compound will abate this breakdown. a typical ABS/PVC material may have room temperature izod impacts of about 7. the part is likely to 80 . there are a number of chemical compounds available that will do this. So other screening agents need to be employed to allow for multiple colors to be available. Conductive packaging along with handling containers is a requirement in this industry. In the case of the olefins. They break down too from UV exposure. these materials do not have impact properties that are comparative to their normal bases. For instance. This keeps the UV rays from getting to the carbon bonds but all plastic parts would be relegated to being black. The bottom line is. Well as it turns out. Then there are amorphous materials such as ABS or HIPS. simple handling on a conveyor belt will cause some of them to fry. the best way to do this is to put a minimum of two percent of carbon black in the formula. you may need to consider other materials or go with Henry Ford black. Other properties such as stiffness may change somewhat too. The electronic age of computers with their use of sensitive microchips have made these materials necessary. Because of the high loading of carbon fibers to the plastic matrix. Somehow we have to screen out the UV rays from the sun.stresses built up within the formed part and the carbon fiber contact will have gaps that cannot conduct electricity. because of the nature of these materials. This would make Henry Ford happy but the rest of us may get bored. If not. If you store your expensive motherboards for your computer in nonconductive containers.5 foot pounds where a conductive ABS/PVC material may only have room temperature izod impacts of about 3 foot pounds. All things in nature are subject to entropy. conductive materials do not form as well as nonconductive materials of the same kind so care should be taken not to attempt to form parts that are exceedingly difficult for these materials. As a general rule. We typically like to hold the draw ratios to below three to one. This affects the physical properties of these plastics. Some materials like PVC do not like high temperatures during the forming process so a balance must be struck between maintaining conductivity and getting a good part. as computer chips have gotten smaller and more powerful. these materials will break down very quickly in the sunlight. Without some sort of protector. Typically these additives will preserve these olefins for about seven years in outside applications and this is normally sufficient. Plastics are no exception. WEATHERABLE MATERIALS As plastics have become more ubiquitous.

UV exposure to sunlight is another problem in regard to fading. If we do not protect ABS from the sunlight. This could be pretty serious if your part is subject to abuse. it will hold color quite well in the outdoors. in environments such as Florida the impact properties of ABS will be reduced by as much as 75% within six months. They have concocted materials such as AES and ASA that can be laminated unto the surfaces of ABS or other materials to substantially slow down this degradation process. you are going to have to protect it from the sunlight. It does have some excellent physical properties and it is very user friendly. It is a clear material that has come into favor more recently. If you are going to use your part outdoors and it is made of plastic. Other than certain paints. PETG This is an Acronym for polyethyleneterephthalate. 81 . What you select as the protecting agent depends on what you need to accomplish. Plastic chemists have come up with a solution. Cheer up my good friends. The bottom line comes down to this. Although barely discernable. almost all materials fade in sunlight. ASA is an acrylic rubber modified stryene-acrylonitrile terpolymer that is used in much the same way. If color fastness is an issue. It is nothing more than Acrylic. It is not as effective in protecting your part from impact degradation as an AES or an ASA would. However. Certain colors fade more than others do. If you need an indoor part that is clear.fade into a charcoal gray color over time instead of black despite using black to color the parts. reds. If maintaining your physical properties is the issue. or blues. in conjunction with the proper pigment package. Some of this can be overcome by selecting the best pigment package possible for the UV protective materials but it is not foolproof. they do not change color as drastically as bright yellows. Nothing is a panacea. It is just a matter of degree. AES is a saturated olefinic rubber modified styrene-acrylonitrile terpolymer that has been successfully used in outdoor applications in excess of fifteen years. this is a hard material to beat. it is not quite as clear as polycarbonate and it is not UV stable. When you expose grays and earth tones to the environment. Additives to the plastic base do not seem to be effective in screening out these UV rays. In these materials The UV rays not only attack the carbon bonds but also break down any butadiene rubber we may add as impact modifiers to plastics such as ABS. Tests have shown that degradation levels are kept above 50% of their original property values. the best thing I know to protect your color on a plastic part is a material that goes by the trade name Korad. than an AES or an ASA clad material should be your choice. Again. In plastics this is pretty impressive. This gives us a unique problem. Korad is a probable answer.

Second. You skip any of these important components and your chances of success are significantly reduced. CAST ACRYLIC Highly cosmetic sheet used as the surface layer of glass fiber reinforced bathtubs. Typically they are highly engineered materials that fit specific areas of use and have properties that are specifically tailored to meet some very tightly sought after properties. It is similar to PVC/ABS materials. POLYSULFONE This is a very high heat resistant material. If it is economically feasible to come up with a plastic alloy that will meet one of these requirements. Here are a few more of them. you have to have good part design that is relevant to the vacuum forming process. you need to select the material that will meet the needs of the environment you are going to expose the finished part into. Do yourself a favor. A lot of good plastic materials but by no means all of them. First. you can bet there will be a compounder or and extruder that will be happy to take on the R & D project and then your order. So there you have it. This is done all the time.OTHER MATERIALS There are a lot of other materials available that can be thermoformed. We won’t go into detail on the physical properties and uses but you should realize they are not as common as some of the above materials for a reason. FOAM LAMINATES Plasticized PVC foam over ABS or PVC/ABS substrate. The terrific thing about plastics is the flexibility you have in designing or compounding a formula that will meet the requirements of your specific application. you must have the proper processing equipment and processing knowledge to accomplish the task at hand. ULTEMP This is another very high heat resistant material used in the aircraft industry. you have to get tooling that will allow you to work with the material you have selected and be compatible with the geometry of the part you are trying to produce. in excess of 350° Fahrenheit. Used in automotive interiors and boat applications. Finally. I don’t know them all. Let me summarize again what is necessary to get a good plastic part. pay attention to all four of these important points. Listing them all would be cumbersome and besides. NORYL Polyphenylene Oxyde/Styrene is a flame resistant plastic coming in various formulas that vary the heat distortion properties to meet different specifications. Third. VALOX – PC/PBT Extremely high impact material used in the automobile industry. Some of these materials will be given in their trade name and some will be given in their chemical name. 82 . DR ACRYLIC Extruded acrylic sheet for outdoor applications.

there is no solution to 83 . Once we get by the description of the problem. you should have no problems with making good plastic parts all the time.This concludes the presentation of the process of vacuum forming. Maybe the objectionable condition is perfectly normal and the person really doesn’t have a problem he can do anything about. We call these necessary inputs to come to proper conclusions. I have done a lot of trouble-shooting over the phone in my time. you may be able to determine if the processor will be able to do anything about the problem. we have to find out about the equipment and the processing conditions. For instance.325 inch thick sheet. So we have to develop a method or system whereby we can diagnose and fix a problem that keeps us from making an acceptable quality part. If you believe that. you should be able to get it from a resin supplier or an extrusion company. if the processor has a singleside heating oven and he is trying to form a . What is going wrong? What is the anomaly that prevents the part from being acceptable? To highlight this we will set up a system whereby in the left hand column we will described a situation that is not acceptable and in the right hand column we will offer some potential suggestions that will likely remedy the problem. you have to know what is objectionable. Before you can solve a problem. Hopefully we have covered most of the technical areas that would give you incite into what is actually required to successfully implement the thermoforming method of producing plastic parts. “what kind of machine do you have?” If you are familiar with the various types of forming machines available and you know what the processor is objecting to. “in your own words. what is happening or what is objectionable about the part that you are trying to make?” Is the part tearing? Is the part thinning? Are there flow marks? Are there webs or wrinkles? Sometimes these questions in themselves will be a clue about the processing conditions that are being employed. you will have to know something about the machine and the process or forming technique the person with the problem is using. If additional information is needed on any specific plastic or what other types of plastics are available for use in thermoforming. Let us go over most of these major important factors that can affect the outcome of the finished formed part. Before we do that however. a lot of things could go wrong. I got a bridge in Arizona I would like to sell you. The second thing to ask is. The first thing we have to do is define the problem. As with anything else. I have a few questions that I feel you need to know the answers to before you can expect to diagnose what may be going wrong or what is objectionable with the part the processor is trying to make. The first obvious question is. Happy thermoforming! TROUBLE-SHOOTING Now that you have a reasonably good idea on what is involved in thermoforming.

and what type of heat is given off of these different types of heaters. or you may not be able to turn it down low enough. or anything else that is unique to its geometry. I usually go to the source where about 50% of the problems occur. Does the processor have single-sided or double-sided heating elements in his oven? Some materials such as laminates cannot be formed with single-sided heating elements. At 50% heat. such as heat coming off of white light quartz. it becomes somewhere between difficult and impossible to form with single-sided heating ovens. What kind of oven does the processor have? There are a lot of important questions to answer here.his problem except getting a better machine. So knowing the type and capabilities of the equipment available is pretty useful in understanding what can and can’t be done with the part the processor is trying to deal with. how hot are the elements. The next question is. I gave you my preference in heating elements. If a calrod is glowing red. Here are most of them. So this is important to know. but it will require a high sheet cost and have to be made on a good machine with some excellent tooling. After these initial important questions are asked. For calrod heaters this is fine but when you use nichrome wire heaters this length of timer will have the nichrome wire glow red through part of the cycle and part of the time be dark. the part is complicated enough that actually seeing the part or going to the processor will be necessary to clarify what is going on. “describe the part in terms of its shape.187” thick. such as heat coming from catalytic gas. Then again if the timer is on most of the time. the processor is not even aware of it. Are all the elements working? This is a very common problem. This is fine for the olefins but it may be disastrous for PVC or PVC alloys. you can get a picture of what the part looks like. if the sheet you are trying to form is above . how they are adjustable. If you are forming some sensitive materials such as foam laminates. in some instances. the heat may be to harsh. Then we should ask. “what type of heating element is he using in the oven?” Way back when. When the element is set 84 . However. dept of draw. Some parts are difficult to describe.” Knowing these facts will likely help you determine what can be done to rectify what is going wrong in the forming of the part.5 seconds. it is probably over 1000° Fahrenheit. Then too. desired wall thickness. Usually if you question the person long enough. All this reflects on how uniform the temperature of the sheet is when it is actually formed. Most of the time when an element is not working. You need to know what different types of heaters are available. the timer would be on 7. draft. or can it be screened? Sometimes it is desirable to have varying temperatures on the sheet that is to be formed and the temperature of the heating elements you are using can only be adjusted by screening.5 seconds and off 7. a processing problem or a technique selection problem. So it is imperative to know what the part looks like to determine whether we have a design problem. You also need to know what distance the heaters are apart from each other and what distance they are from the sheet that needs to be heated. suppose you have a part that is 6” x 6” square and 15” high. size. This was addressed back in the equipment portion of this paper. Is the oven screened. An example would be. This is to preserve the electrical contactors. This can affect how plastic sheet heats up. Are the heaters on percentage timers and what is the time span of the percentage timers? The typical time span for a percentage timer is 15 seconds. Can it be done? Sure.

at say 50% and it is glowing red. So without further ado. Then again a fuse may be burnt out and no power is coming to the heater. Another aspect of trouble-shooting that does not get the attention it deserves is tooling. Finally. let us get into the numerous problems that can prevent us from making a good quality thermoformed part. This can affect the consistancy of the performance on a part to part basis. there may be an energy override problem. If a tool is designed improperly. Then again you may have ceramic heaters where you can actually control the temperature on areas as small as eight inches by twelve inches and screening is rarely necessary. It’s always easier to blame something else other than tool design to try to rectify a bad situation. We will refer to oven and heater problems later in analyzing specific problems. Probably the reason for this is the expense it would cause to change it after it has been made. you may get an acceptable part occasionally but generally you are going to have a tough time of it. probably 50% of our problems originate in the oven. There are a lot of clever tricks one can do. In the long run. There are other minor inputs that go into trouble-shooting but they can be addressed within the actual trouble-shooting presentation. Suffice it to say there is a lot here. 85 . This seems like a lot of things that can go wrong in an oven and you are correct for making that assumption. is the oven fairly well closed in or is it open and subject to a lot of normal plant air drafts. changing the tool may be cheaper than paying for all the plastic scrap you are going to make. How is the oven zoned? Perhaps we can position the frame in the oven in such a way as to control the temperature on a given area of the sheet just the way we want to. As we stated earlier.

Check with plastic supplier on temperature parameters for the material involved. Increase the distance between the heating elements and the sheet. Sheet too thin. Thinning Design of the part. Check forming oven for elements that are overheating. • • • • • • • • • • • • • Forming technique. • • Pre-dry sheet at the temperature required for the material you are forming. The part has specific areas on it that exceed the draw ratios of the rest of the part. Consider where the part is thinning and what forming technique would best address this problem. Check the sheet for a variation in thickness. • • Heat sensitive material. Increase the gauge thickness of the plastic sheet. Screen out hot spots. element temperatures should not exceed 950° F. Lower element temperatures. Melt index of sheet may be low. • • • • Uneven heating of the sheet. . You may be boiling the stabilizers out of the material. Uneven sheet temperature. Generally speaking. Heat sheet very slowly to forming temperature. Check for hot spots in the forming oven. May have defective heating elements. Check for air drafts in the forming oven. 86 Heating sheet too fast. Protect sheet from moisture before using. The overall draw ratio of the part is too great for the starting thickness of the sheet. Have physical properties of the sheet analyzed.Description of Problem Blisters TROUBLE-SHOOTING GUIDE Possible Causes Possible Corrective Action • Excessive moisture. Bad plastic sheet. Cut down sheet forming temperature. • • • • • Heating sheet too hot.

Increase pigment loading. Check the vacuum system for leaks. Redesign mold. Hot spots in forming oven. Gussets. the corners of the sheet may be too hot. • • • • • • • Cut down on the forming temperature of the sheet. Cut down the heat of the sheet to be formed. Check to see if the vacuum holes are in the proper area. 87 . increase the spacing between parts. Select a better forming technique. Use smaller vacuum holes Restrict the vacuum flow with ball or gate valves in the main vacuum line. Slow down the vacuum speed. Pigment loading too low. Select a resin with a lower melt index. Slow down the vacuum rate.Description of Problem Discoloration TROUBLE-SHOOTING GUIDE Possible Causes Possible Corrective Action • • • • Forming temperature too hot. • • • • • • • • • • • • Wrong forming technique or bad design on present technique. Increase the number of vacuum holes. In billow forming. Screen out appropriate areas of the sheet. Poor mold design or layout. the corners of the sheet may be too cold. • • • • • • High sheet sag. Webbing or bridging • Insufficient vacuum. Redesign ring or plug assist. Check out heating elements. Incorrect sheet temperature. In snapback forming. Add spacing blocks to take up excess material. • • • • Vacuum rate too fast. Make mold adjustments to the current technique. Check to see if the vacuum holes are plugged up. Use plug assist or mechanical ring to eliminate webbing. etc. Increase draft or radii to webbed area. If it is a multiple mold.

Cut down the heater cycle time. Compare color of lump with the rest of the matrix. especially on the texture side. control the orientation in the plastic sheet. Air pressure to clamp frames adjusted to low. Put a piece of paper in the clamp frame and see if you can pull it out without tearing it. • • • • • • Texture washout. If possible. Sheet pulls out of clamp frame. Put double-sided adhesive foam tape with 40-grit emery paper on the clamp frames. it is an extruder issue. Lumps and bumps. • • • • • • • Water droplets on hot plastic • sheet. Turn down the texture side heaters in the oven. Consider a deeper texture. Look at the back of the formed part for loose debris imbedded within the part. • • Incompatible plastic mixed within the sheet. • Contamination in the sheet. Check incompatible lump with an IR test. Get a more sensitive flow valve. Put an electric eye in the snapback box. Cut a cross section of the lump and examine it to see if looks different than the plastic matrix. Cut a cross section of the lump and check for compatibility. Clamp frames warped. Bump on the mold. Plastic sheet heated too hot. Look for a depression on the side of the sheet touching the mold. Shade out certain areas of the sheet to keep it cooler and less susceptible to thinning. • • • • • • • Selectively increase the size of the vacuum holes. Cut down the overall heat on the sheet. If so. Draw ratio of the part too great. • Loose debris on the mold. High shrinkage in plastic sheet.Description of Problem TROUBLE-SHOOTING GUIDE Possible Causes Possible Corrective Action • • • • • Timing the billow in the snapback box. Clamping pressure too low. 88 . Seals leaking on clamp frames.

Select a different texture. Blotchy look on the texture side of amorphous materials. Select a better texture. Sheet won’t fit into clamp frame. • • • • Nerve in the plastic sheet. Some hair cell textures will do this in PVC containing materials.Description of Problem Texture separation. Chatter due to sloppy chain drive on the extruder. Poor mold contact. Preheat sheet to remove stress. The material you are using may have poor hot strength and you may need to select a different one. Rerun sheet. Uneven cooling on the mold 89 . Sheet not flat. Rerun the sheet. Get a temperature-controlled mold. especially on PVC containing materials. Run sheet from the oven at a lower temperature. Texture has deep furrow lines in a pattern. Die lines on the back of the sheet. in excess of 3 to 1. • Excessive heat. Select a deeper texture. Blend resin more thoroughly. Excessive shrinkage in the extruded sheet. Run material on a good direct drive extruder. Place a weight on the bowed up area along the clamp frame. Sandblast mold surface. Cut down the forming temperature heat. • • • • • • Draw ratio pretty large. Select a tighter texture. • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • Select a different texture. Check shrinkage and keep within acceptable limits. • Blotchy look on the texture side of olefin materials. TROUBLE-SHOOTING GUIDE Possible Causes Possible Corrective Action • • Texture too deep for starting thickness of the sheet. Melt index of resin erratic. Flow lines on part. Select a deeper texture. Change the processing technique for forming the part. Check cooling lines for blockages. • • High oven shrinkage.

Use temperature controlled tooling. Is the proper forming technique being used? Check if the plastic sheet is being pulled tightly against the mold. Gauge on flat sheet may be all over the lot. Check cooling fans for proper placement.Description of Problem Inconsistent part. Demolding temperature too hot. Excessive gauge variation on the finished part. TROUBLE-SHOOTING GUIDE Possible Causes Possible Corrective Action • Uneven heat on plastic sheet. Material . • • • • • • • • • • • • Check for air drafts in the heating oven. Cut back on oven cycle time or 90 Bad regrind in plastic sheet. Check for plugged vacuum holes. Decrease mold temperature. Change forming technique to get better material distribution. Check the sheet for a variation in gauge. Part too difficult for the forming technique being used. Preheat the clamp frames. Do an IR or a Brabender test to confirm compound consistency. Warped parts. Do the thin spots occur on the same spot consistently? Increase cooling cycle. Preheat the mold. This is especially important when forming the olefins. Very important in forming the olefins. Check temperature controlled tooling for water flow blockages. Get more cooling fans cooling the part. Insert screens in the oven to shade out thinning areas. Check the material distribution on the mold. • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • Mold too cold. Parts are cooling unevenly. Change to a technique that is suitable. • Overheated sheet. Check for power output variations. Clamp frames too cold. Check various areas of the sheet for gauge differences. Check for hot spots in the oven.

• • • Increase heating time in oven. Check to see if you have enough vacuum holes. Sandblast the mold in the case of olefins. Avoid severe draw ratios. Use an alternate forming technique. Check to see if some vacuum holes are clogged. • Sheet too cold. Incorrect forming technique. Poor detail on part. • • Cold clamping frame. Check to see if the system delivers enough vacuum. Check mold for flexing during the vacuum cycle. • • • • heat. Change forming technique to best suit the geometry of the part. Increase heating element temperature. Check for leaks in the vacuum system. Add a moat if you are dealing with the olefins. Check oven for consistency. Preheat the clamping frame to get a better seal.Description of Problem TROUBLE-SHOOTING GUIDE Possible Causes Possible Corrective Action • sagging too much. Check for plugged vacuum holes. Crown the part if possible. • • • • • • • Poor part design. Poor mold design. Avoid large flat areas. Check to see if the mold is leaking vacuum and/or sealing properly. Add more vacuum holes. Employ a plug assist to get better 91 . Check oven for drafts. Put in ribs or cosmetic designs in the flat areas. • • • • • • • • • • • Insufficient vacuum. Check for the proper location of the vacuum holes and are they the proper size.

Change forming technique to eliminate chill marks. • • • Plastic too thick in area with poor detail. Isolate the thermoforming area. Get temperature controlled tool. Handle sheet carefully. Use a different forming technique to distribute the material better. • • Mold surface too rough. Separate sheet out that has contaminates imbedded into it. • • Voids. • Hot strength of material too great. Add more draft to the part. Put in filtering system. • • Poor surface finish on part. • Contaminated sheet. Add more vacuum holes to the affected area. Sandblast the mold surface. Clean up the thermoforming area thoroughly. Adjust predraw depth. Wipe sheet off before putting it in the thermoformer. Select a material with less hot strength. • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • Chill marks. Heat the area with the thick plastic hotter. Dirty mold. Use pressure-forming technique to make the part. • • • • • • Draft angle too severe. Run current mold hotter. Cull out affected sheets where possible. • • 92 . Sandblast mold surface. Polish mold surface to a smoother finish. Apply mold release sparingly in selective areas. Clean sheet with isopropyl alcohol or deionizing airgun. Mold surface creates too much drag. Air entrapment between the mold and formed part. Clean mold off with airgun or mechanical means. Dirty sheet. Scratched surface on sheet. Interleaf sheet. Dirt and debris in the atmosphere. Polish mold in selected areas.Description of Problem TROUBLE-SHOOTING GUIDE Possible Causes Possible Corrective Action material distribution and vacuum seal.

Dirt or debris on the mold surfaces. Cover the plug with an insulative material. Keep the thermoforming area clean. Reduce the heating cycle. Sheet too hot. Material freezes onto the mold when it touches it. Dirty embossing roll during the extrusion process. Insufficient draft angle on the part. Clean the mold frequently during the forming operation. Change the forming technique to an appropriate one. • • • • • • • • Avoid dragging the corner of the sheet across the surface of the textured side. Wrong forming technique is being used. Dust and dirt in the atmosphere. Sheet too hot. Examine what you are cleaning the sheet with before putting it into the thermoformer. 93 . Vacuum rate is too high. Poor mixing during extrusion. • • • • • • Color loss or stress whitening or blushing. Cut back on heating cycle to prevent discoloration. Clean the texture roll. Redesign the part to accommodate a larger radius. Sheet too cold. Mold temperature too low. Decrease vacuum-hole size. Cut down the oven temperature. Streaks. Vacuum holes too large. Plug temperature too low. Increase the plug temperature. Chill marks. Dimples on mold side of parts. Heat sheet to a higher temperature before forming. Undispersed pigment in the sheet. Cut down the vacuum volume. Rerun the material. Use an insulating material to make the plug. Put in a filter system if necessary. Increase the draft angle. Increase the mold temperature. The radius on the part is too small.Description of Problem TROUBLE-SHOOTING GUIDE Possible Causes Possible Corrective Action • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • Sheet too hot. Reduce the heating cycle or cut down the oven temperature.

Description of Problem

TROUBLE-SHOOTING GUIDE Possible Causes Possible Corrective Action
• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • Excessive gauge variation in the sheet. Cold mold. • • • • • Reduce the temperature of the heaters to prevent surface scorching. Reduce the distance the heaters are in relation to the sheet being heated. Increase the thickness of the sheet. Change the forming technique to improve the part thickness. Shade the oven or turn down the element temperatures in the area the part is thinning. Increase mold temperature. Change draft angles. Increase radii. Change mold geometry to reduce the draw ratio. Check the heaters to see if they are set properly. Check for faulty heaters. Check for drafts or air currents in the oven. Shade oven if element zoning is not possible. Check to see if the elements are too close to the plastic. Check the gauge of the sheet. Increase the mold temperature. Check the mold for plugged water lines. Cut down sheet temperature. Use zone heating to cut down temperature in the center of the sheet.

Part too thin.

Mold too cold. Poor mold design.

Poor material distribution and/or excessive thinning in specific areas.

Uneven heating of the sheet.

Excessive sag.


Description of Problem
Shiny streaks on part.

TROUBLE-SHOOTING GUIDE Possible Causes Possible Corrective Action
• Sheet too hot in certain spots. • Control the heat in the hot zone of the sheet by cutting down the element temperature in the specific area. Increase the distance between the heater and the sheet. Screen the entire oven to dissipate the heat more evenly. Check the unformed plastic sheet for shiny spots. Use heavier gauged sheet. Reduce sheet forming temperature. Change forming technique to get better sheet distribution. Change from female to male mold. Use screening or control the temperature of the heating zones. Increase cooling cycle time. Reduce the mold temperature. Employ better cooling fans. Place cooling fans in more logistic places. Use cooling fixtures. Repair or improve the seal edge. Put in a moat on the mold. Put as sandblast finish on the mold. Check mold and vacuum system for leaks. Increase vacuum capacity. Check for plugged vacuum holes. Add vacuum holes or increase the size as appropriate. Increase draft. Remove the part from the mold as hot as possible without warping it. Increase the mold temperature to keep the part from cooling too much. Smooth out the mold in the areas that are locking on.

• • • Thin corners on the formed part. • • Sheet too thin. Poor material distribution. • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • Difficult to remove part off the mold. • • • Insufficient draft on a male mold. Male mold temperature too cold. Mold surface too rough for the draft angle. • • • •

• Excessive shrinkage after part is removed from the mold. •

Sheet temperature too high at the corners. Inadequate cooling.

Shrink marks on formed part.

• • •

Poor seal edge on the mold. Mold surface too smooth. Inadequate vacuum.


Description of Problem

TROUBLE-SHOOTING GUIDE Possible Causes Possible Corrective Action
• • Air ejection pressure too low • or not long enough. • Wrong mold material used for the required draft angle. Undercuts on mold too severe. • • • • • • • • Use mold release in areas that are locking on. Increase or extend air ejection pressure. Add more vacuum holes in strategic places. Change to the proper mold material. Use an appropriate mold release. Reduce the size of the undercuts. Increase the air eject pressure. Remove the part from the mold earlier in the cooling cycle. Put the mold on a hinged frame. Put removable parts on the mold that come off when the part is being removed from the mold. Use mold release where appropriate. Repair seal edge on the mold. Repair clamp frames or put pins in them to grip better. Heat clamp frames up before running parts. Adjust the clamp frame properly.

• •

Loss of vacuum seal.

• • • •

Seal edge on the mold is bad. Material not holding in the clamp frames. Clamp frames too cold. Clamp frames not adjusted properly or not coming up through the seal edge of the mold enough. Poor mold design.

• • • •

Sheet tears during forming.

• • • • • • • •

Plastic sheet too hot before forming.

Thinner gauges, sheet too cold.

Consider changing the mold geometry. Change the forming technique. Increase the radii on the part. Cut down heating cycle. Cut down heater temperatures, especially in specific areas. Check for hot spots on sheet. Increase heating time. Check sheet for uniform temperature.


Avoid mixing regrind with various melt indexes. Change the material to an acceptable material. Screen the oven to control temperatures in given areas of the sheet. Melt index of the plastic is erratic. Plastic sheet sticks to the plug. Check the seal in the billow box. Decrease heater temperature. Sheet temperature varying. Billow height or depth is varying. Cover the plug with an insulative material.Description of Problem TROUBLE-SHOOTING GUIDE Possible Causes Possible Corrective Action • • Poor material distribution. Use screening or shading to reduce the heat in the center of the sheet. Cover the plug with an insulative material. Check for uneven heating. • • • • • Sheet heated too hot. Poor hot strength on the plastic material. Use mold release on the plug. (Widen the processing window) Put in a sag eye in the billow box. Change forming techniques. Air pressure or vacuum volume too great for the size of billow box. • • • • • • • Check the sheet for uneven thickness. Decrease cycle time. Check heating elements for power variations. Check for power variations. Improper use of regrind. Avoid using regrind that has little rheological life left. Control the quality of the regrind. • • • • • • • • • • Sag levels vary from sheet to sheet. Check for drafts in the oven. • • • • • • Vacuum or air leaks in the billow box or seal edge. • • • 97 . Excessive sheet sag. Sheet area too large in relationship to the depth of draw. Plug temperature is too hot. Select a different material. Reduce the vacuum volume or air pressure to cut down the sensitivity of the billow. • • Sheet temperature is uneven. Decrease the plug temperature. • Wrong material is being used for the plug. Check heating elements for proper operation. Check oven for drafts.

that is. Plastic heated too hot too quickly. Redesign the part. Check to see if the physical properties of the material selected are adequate for the part produced. Mold lubricant incompatible with the plastic being used. Fill in the thin areas in the back of the part with epoxy resins.Description of Problem Sheet whitening. Use plug assists to distribute material more efficiently. Increase the radii on the sharp areas of the part. Increase sheet thickness. Part too thin in specific areas. • • • • • • • • • • • • • Poor part design. Increase forming temperature of the part. Improper cooling temperature on the mold. Check assembly technique to see if it commensurate with good assembly practices. excessive spray misting. Increase heating element temperature. 98 . Parts are brittle. Part cleaned with a harmful chemical during packaging. Part formed too cold and is not stress relieved. TROUBLE-SHOOTING GUIDE Possible Causes Possible Corrective Action • • Sheet too cold. Consider changing forming technique. • Sheet stretched beyond the yield point of the plastic. Check cleaning agents you are using. Consider changing part design. Poor selection of materials. Part cracks during service life. Check to see if the mold is too cold. Increase mold temperature. Change mold lubricant. • • • • • • • • • • • • • Increase heating time. Change the forming technique. Check for charring of the surface of the plastic and turn down the heating element temperature. Part not assembled properly or fastened to other structures improperly. Check to see if the cooling on the mold is too abrupt.

Form the plastic at a cooler temperature. Select a more appropriate plastic. Rerun with good material if necessary. High orientation in the sheet. TROUBLE-SHOOTING GUIDE Possible Causes Possible Corrective Action • Flat surface of the mold not properly reinforced. Poor hot strength in the plastic. • • • • • • • • • • • • • • Plastic tears during heating or forming. Use good quality regrind. Rerun the plastic sheet. Plastic is partially burnt during the extrusion operation. 99 .Description of Problem Flat surface of a part not flat. Rerun with the proper orientation. Furrows or lines in the part. Select a texture that will not separate during the heating cycle. Use only regrind that is compatible with the virgin part of the sheet. Oil canning during the vacuum cycle. Die lines in the plastic. Mixed regrind in the sheet. Grain texture too deep for the thickness of the sheet being used. • Check the mold for rigidity and durability. Test the material to see if the viscosity is OK.

These techniques were listed from simple drape forming to plug assist billow forming depending on how complex the part was. The first thing you have to do is get a thorough understanding of what exact sequence of events occurs within each technique. The best thing to do is start with simple parts using simple techniques and progress to more complicated parts using more complex techniques. Then you have to imagine what shapes would lend themselves best to the technique you are observing.Summary So there you have it. To accomplish this. In other words. It is important to know what can be done with this method of processing plastic and where the limitations are. However. we put forth a number of thermoforming techniques that would allow us to form the flat sheet of plastic into various geometric shapes with progressive degrees of difficulty. Hopefully I have made the illustrations and the explanation on this concept clear enough to provide you with some incite into understanding the thermoforming process. Master the principles behind this concept and you will go a long way to becoming proficient at selecting a good thermoforming technique for the particular part you are trying to make. just to be on the safe side. you will get a feel for how heated plastic behaves. So how do we recognize which one of these techniques to use? I wish I could give you some magic formula that would designate which one to use in a given situation but no such magic formula exists. Don’t be afraid to get help. Each of these techniques has been developed to enhance the forming of some particular type of geometry. what could be accomplished by employing a specific technique? How would the technique move the plastic into the desired areas and provide you with a structurally sound part with the most uniform wall thickness? There is no substitute for experience here. “no problem. As you continue to observe what happens. you would most likely need to use complicated plug assists and employ the pressure forming process. Everything you ever wanted to know about thermoforming and were afraid to ask. but understanding the empirical reasoning on this concept is imperative. Being able to do the math is important. An important concept that will help you a great deal in selecting an appropriate thermoforming technique is DRAW RATIO. as we stated in the beginning of this presentation. let us reiterate some of the important aspects of this process. If all you were interested in were forming and RV fender for a travel trailer. There are lots of “boat anchors” out there because of the simple statement. However. thermoforming is the process of taking a flat sheet of plastic and changing it into a contoured shape. It is better to have a bruised ego than a bruised pocketbook. the simple drape forming technique would do. You will especially get a quick education on the various types of plastics as they all behave differently. we can do that”! Employing the principles behind the draw ratio concept should enable you to make sound judgements with regards to thermoforming. 100 . if you were making the cover and fascia of and MRI machine. First of all.

undercuts. Designing the part to accommodate the process and not the other way around is imperative. and ship” parts. If you are producing “heat. These are all considerations that could give you a competitive edge with regard to the finale finished part cost. The reverse is true also. By taking advantage of the general geometry of the part. Sometimes it is possible to utilize the part shape and make multiple up molds that will reduce the amount of plastic required per part. you will not need very sophisticated equipment. They were PART DESIGN. It is also very beneficial to develop a rapport with your thermoformer. look how impressed your friends. Should the tool be male or female? What material should the mold be made from? Does the tool have to be temperature controlled? What are the tolerances required on the finished part? What thermoforming technique should be used? Putting a good deal of thought and planning into the tooling requirements of the thermoforming process will very likely save you a lot of money and grief down the road.” That is true. there will be much screaming and gnashing of teeth. suck. No matter how much effort you put into the other three essential factors that affect the thermoforming process. Ignore any one of these issues and you could come up with some serious problems but of all these issues. we have to get the tooling people involved in the project. but you probably won’t stay in business long. you are likely to meet with failure. we made a statement that there were four important concerns to produce a successful thermoformed part. radii. You have to feel comfortable that what he is telling you is reliable. Once we are assured that the part design is right. He has to feel comfortable with being able to tell you the truth without you running to another supplier. Again experience is an indispensable ingredient in the total picture. Selecting the right forming technique can also take advantage of the shape of the part and lower processing scrap rates. A number of important decisions have to be made. Your competitors will blow you away. Certainly the guidelines set forth in this presentation should be useful. it is quite likely that you will be able to simplify the trimming phase of producing a finished part.Besides. Next we have the actual thermoforming processing parameters to consider. will be with your analytical knowledge. and maybe even your customers. part design and tool design is the most important. What type of equipment you need will somewhat depend on what markets you are trying to address. Your 101 . tolerances and the like to give you the proper guidance to assure an aesthetic and functional part. This has to be done in conjunction with the thermoformer. How complex is this part and what type of processing equipment is needed to do the job? A while back I made a statement that “you can get into the thermoforming business with as little as a pizza oven and a vacuum cleaner. TOOL DESIGN. In the section following DRAW RATIO. PROCESSING and MATERIAL SELECTION. So what should you do? Get with the expert! Who better to solicit advise from than the person that will have to live with the consequences of a difficult design than the thermoformer himself? He will most likely have been confronted with numerous issues regarding draft. If you exceed the limitations of what thermoforming can do.

dilemma will be fighting price and profit margins because you are not bringing anything unique to the party. Your only advantage may be location and service. I hope you live across the street from this guy. However, if you are making pressure formed covers and fascia for a $1,000,000 MRI machine, the parts will probably require tight tolerances and need to be cosmetically appealing. This will require state of the art equipment that is capable of producing highly accurate parts consistently. You are not going to get this equipment from the local hardware store. I have addressed many of the features that are important and available on thermoforming equipment in the processing section of this manual but it may prudent to reiterate some of the important components again. Heater types come to mind. I cannot stress strongly enough that price and operating costs are not the only consideration. If you intend to do complex parts, heater performance may be your only practical concern. Some heaters are more efficient than others and can be more readily controlled. Get with someone who has been on a “snipe hunt” at least once and solicit some opinions. This brings us to oven control. Nothing worse than getting some good heaters and not being able to control them temperature wise. There are a number of controllers available from computer controllers to manual percentage timers. To some degree, what you select will depend on the type of heaters you have but DO NOT under select. You can never have too much control. I can promise you no matter how sophisticated your control system is, somewhere down the line you will wish that your system could do just one more thing. Humans are like that! That goes for oven zoning too. Think long and hard on what you may want to do in the future before you settle on a zoning pattern for your machine. You cannot believe how creative you can get after the fact. This is another time to consult someone who has been around the block at least once. Limitations on oven control are among the most important causes for excessive scrap and the inability to make consistent and successful parts. Poor part design and tool design are the other big impediments. Another consideration in the thermoforming process is cycle time. Sooner or later your totally understanding customer will insist on more parts than you can provide. So, now you will wish you had a temperature controlled mold or a rotary thermoformer. However, it does you no good to have a rotary machine if you do not have a temperature-controlled mold. I have addressed this concept fairly thoroughly with the cycle time chart in the general manual. Cycle times have everything to do with what type of equipment you have, what kind of mold you are using, the type of plastic you are forming and the thickness of material you are heating and cooling. Most all of your limitations in process time are derived from these conditions. The trick here is to get your customer to give you an accurate projection on the potential volume for this part. Polish up his crystal ball! Knowing what the future volume for this part will be will go a long way to deciding what kind of tooling to build. It could save you both some money too. A final comment on processing. Plastics generally love water. However, the thermoforming process does not. Consequently, it is imperative that you keep the


unformed sheet as moisture free as possible. Generally the sheet manufacturer will package the material in a polyethylene film to keep the moisture level to a minimum but if the sheet is setting around too long it will very likely need drying in a drying oven. Typically you need to consult the sheet manufacturer or the resin manufacturer to get some guidelines on drying temperatures and times. I gave you a chart for the most prominent ones, ABS and polycarbonate. Most plastics are notch sensitive and forming the sheet when it is wet could diminish the impact properties significantly. Common sense is the byword here. The fourth major component in producing a successful part is the selection of the material for the application. The problem is there are a lot of plastics that would successfully do the job for a given application. The challenge is to find the plastic that is cost effective and is not over engineering or under engineering the part function. To properly determine what that plastic might be, we have access to the physical property values of the various plastics and we are able to compare them to one another. Once you have a general idea of what these values mean, you should be able to select a material that meets the requirements necessary for the part to function in the environment it will be used. You should be able to compare plastics and other materials with one another to get a good part design and build a safety factor into the part to assure an expected useful life. There is a myriad of plastics to choose from. Each of them has some unique characteristics that would enhance the function of the part you are designing. However, they are not all “user friendly” to the thermoforming process for the particular part you are trying to produce. Let me give a for instance. If you have a shallow draw part with a three foot by three foot dimension, you will not be able to make this part from polypropylene. There is just too much sag in this material during the thermoforming process and you will not be able to make a web free part. Even though the physical properties of polypropylene may be just perfect for the function of the part, you will most likely need to select another material. This in no way suggests the polypropylene is a bad material. It just has some characteristics that make it inappropriate for that particular job that has to do with processing. So how do you know these things? You need to consult with someone who is familiar with the various materials you are considering for your project and learn about the idiosyncrasies they may have. Typically a resin manufacturer or a technical person with the sheet manufacturer will be able to help you. Plastics are extremely versatile. The array of properties available in this class of material is so vast, you should be able to find a number of them that fit your application. For instance, if you want to make a plastic that is weather resistant to sunlight, it can be formulated that way. If you want to make a plastic that is conductive, it can be formulated that way. Some other properties that can be formulated into a plastic compound or are inherent within the compound itself are: flame resistancy, chemical resistance, high heat distortion, color consistency without painting, controlled gloss – either high or low, and making parts that we can see through. There are numerous other properties that make plastics very useful and one should not be shy about inquiring about a plastic that will meet the exact need you want.


Finally, we addressed trouble-shooting. As with any process, there will always be anomalies that will prevent things from going smoothly. So what we have done is give you a number of conditions that occur frequently that keep you from making an acceptable part. This is not everything bad that could happen to you and it is not every conceivable solution to the problem but it is a pretty comprehensive list. We tried to address the problem in simple terms and make the potential solutions as brief as possible. Hopefully this will give you some quick clues that will result in the much sought after “aha experience.” As we indicated, successful trouble-shooting requires some knowledge of the equipment you are processing the parts on and a general knowledge of the techniques available to thermoforming. A general idea of what types of molds are available and how each of them responds to the thermoforming process with different materials is pretty useful too. Also, a fair understanding of what heating systems are available and how they function is invaluable. All this contributes to high level of success in fixing the problem. Well, I hope that some of this information will be useful to you and keep you from situations that are embarrassing and maybe even downright costly. Hopefully everything I have told you is accurate and of some use. My intentions were honorable. I am sure that before the ink is dry on this manual, someone with a stellar invention or idea will make something in this manual obsolete or maybe even ridiculous. I can only hope that when that happens I will be fishing on some inaccessible lake in Wisconsin. So best of luck to everyone, and HAPPY THERMOFORMING.


AIR CONVECTION OVEN: The chamber or structure used to deliver hot air to the surface of a plastic. BANK: A group of heating elements that are connected together with a common electric circuit. BANBURY MIXING: A system of mixing materials together using a pair of contra-rotating rotors that force the materials together into a homogeneous blend through friction and pressure.7 pounds per square inch. ATMOSPHERIC PRESSURE: The pressure that is applied to the earth’s surface due to the weight of the air surrounding the surface of the earth. AMORPHOUS POLYMERS: Polymers devoid of orderly molecular structures. They exhibit a broad melting range as opposed to crystalline structures. . ASA: An acrylic rubber modified styrene-acrylonitrile terpolymer generally used in outdoor exposure applications. AES: A saturated olefinic rubber modified styrene-acrylonitrile terpolymer generally used in outdoor exposure applications. AIR CONVECTION: Heat energy transferred to a plastic via the movement of hot air about its surface area. An example is Polyvinyl Chloride combined with Acrylonitrile-butadiene-styrene. ALLOY: A combination of blended polymers or copolymers that result in unique physical properties not available in the single polymer. This is an excellent mixing system and probably the best one available for compounding plastic alloys. At sea level it is 14. BLACK BODY: A body that emits the maximum amount of radiant energy at a given wavelength. BILLOW: Pre-stretching a heated plastic sheet by injecting air into a chamber that has the plastic sheet sealed over the edges of the chamber.Glossary of Terms ABS: Acrylonitrile-butadiene-styrene terpolymer ABSORPTION: Is the process of radiant energy being absorbed in the plastic as it is being heated up. BLACK PANEL HEATERS (solar panels): Heaters with resistance wires imbedded in a routed out ceramic fiber refractory board and covered with a black panel quartz or glass plate.

BLEED OFF: The act of letting air out of a mold chamber to allow a billow to stretch uniformly over a mold so the bubble does not burst during the forming operation. BUBBLE: A pre-stretched piece of plastic that is obtained by sealing the plastic over a vacuum or pressure box and applying a vacuum or air pressure to this box causing it to develop a concave or convex hemisphere. CERAMIC HEATER: A resistance wire trapped within a ceramic shell that will heat up when an electric current is passed through the wire. This causes the panel to give off heat through radiant and convective energy. CALROD: A resistance wire packed in magnesium inside a stainless steel tube. After the sheet is heated it provides a method of sealing the plastic to the mold edge to make it possible to draw a vacuum. BLISTERS: A depression on the surface of a heated plastic sheet or part caused by the rupturing of the surface of the plastic as the trapped gases are expanding very rapidly and escaping as the plastic is softening and allowing the rupture. BRIDGING: This is a condition whereby the plastic stretching across a mold cavity during the forming operation does not pull down tightly against the mold surface. Chain drives can also be used to shuttle the plastic into and out of the oven. CATALYTIC GAS HEATER: An enclosed panel in which natural or propane gas enters into it and is dispersed throughout the panel and ignited.Glossary of Terms These heaters are very efficient at giving off radiant and convective heat. It is very efficient at given off radiant and convective energy. CHEMICAL REACTOR: The vessel that is used to polymerize a monomer through the use of heat and pressure in the presence of a catalyst. CHILL MARKS: A wavy surface imperfection that is caused by contact of the hot plastic to the mold surface before other parts of the hot plastic contact it. 106 . CHEMICAL RESISTANCE: The ability of a material to resist having its properties changed when being exposed to a substance that could potentially chemically attack it. CHAIN DRIVE: A system of raising or lowering the platens on a thermoforming machine. the tube will heat up and give off radiant and convective energy. CAVITY MOLD: A female mold in which a part is drawn into it via vacuum or pressure. When sending electricity through this wire. CLAMPING FRAME (Mechanism): A mechanical means of holding the edges of a plastic sheet while it is being heated in an oven.

107 . CONDUCTIVE PLASTICS: Plastics that can actually conduct an electric current. times the length or thickness of the part in inches. What difference does it make where or who you buy it from? CONDUCTION: A method of transferring energy to a material or body through direct contact. COOLING: The process of removing heat from a formed plastic part as it is drawn onto the mold. Typically it is used to maintain dimensional stability. COOLING FIXTURE: A device that is used to hold the shape of a part after it is removed from the mold and is cooling off. benzene is a commodity. COMMODITY MATERIALS: Materials that generally are similar and can be bought and sold based on current market conditions. geometrical. times the temperature change. For instance. CRYSTALLINITY: A state whereby the molecular structure of a resin arranges itself in a symmetrical. CONVECTION: A method of transferring energy to a material or body via the use of fluids or air flowing about that body. three-dimensional pattern forming a polymer. CYCLES – CYCLE TIME: A complete sequence of events that occur in making a plastic part from the loading of the sheet to the loading of the next sheet to make a second part. DEPTH OF DRAW: The distance that the mold protrudes out of the mold base or the depth the cavity extends within the mold from the mold base surface. CONTOURED BOX – SNAPBACK: This is a box that has roughly the same shape as the mold you are trying to form the plastic over. A time lapse between identical spots within a repeatable sequence of events. albeit very weakly and slowly. For plastics this value is somewhere in the range of ten to the minus fifth. COOLING LINES: Tubes running through a mold that carry the fluid that either heats up or cools off the temperature of a mold to keep it consistent. that will dissipate an electric charge. CRYSTALLINE POLYMERS: Polymers that have sharp melting points. It has calculated amounts of clearances that prevent the plastic from being pulled into the vacuum box too deeply so webbing and thinning do not occur.Glossary of Terms COEFFICIENT OF THERMAL EXPANSION: The fractional change in length of a material in response to a change in temperature.

ELONGATION: The amount in length a material can increase without breaking when put under stressed tension. A second system is taking two sharpened edges and sliding them past each other through the plane of a plastic part. DRAPE: The process of pulling a hot piece of plastic over a mold creating a seal along the mold edges. EPDM: Ethylene Propylene Diene Monomer that is used as a rubber impact modifier in weatherable plastics. DRAFT: The slope of the vertical edges of a mold that is used to facilitate the removal of the part from the mold. DISCOLORATION: The process of a plastic changing color through exposure of sunlight or applying a substance to the plastic that chemically attacks it. 108 . DRAW RATIO (STRETCH RATIO): The ratio of the starting thickness of the plastic sheet to the final thickness of the plastic on the formed part. Calculating this ratio depends on the geometry of the part. The dimple can be caused by a void within the plastic sheet or moisture within the surface of the sheet that ruptures when the sheet is heated. DIE LINES: Linear grooves or depressions in the back of an extruded sheet that parallel the machine direction of the plastic sheet. EPOXY RESIN: A thermosetting plastic used for making molds or tooling fixtures. EXCESSIVE MOISTURE: The amount of water that is absorbed in the surface of a plastic sheet or resin that will keep you from processing it. ENTROPY: The tendency of an energy system or organized entity to break down. They are usually caused by hang-ups in the die or nicks on the die lips.Glossary of Terms DIE CUTTING: A system of trimming plastic parts that takes a steel rule die and applies enough pressure to cut through the desired areas of the plastic an stopping against a support plate. FEMALE MOLD: A cavity used to stretch a piece of plastic over. DIMPLE: A depression in the surface of the plastic sheet or formed part. EMISSIVITY: The ratio of radiation intensity from a surface to the radiation intensity at the same wavelength from a blackbody at the same temperature.

GAS REGULATOR: A device that controls the amount of gas that enters a gas heating system thereby controlling the heat output. GAS FLAME HEATING: A heating system that employs an open gas flame to heat up a plastic sheet. FORMING TEMPERATURE: The temperature at which a plastic will shape into the geometry you are attempting to attain. convective and radiant heat energy. There are numerous processes that will accomplish this depending on how complex a shape you are trying to make. 109 . In rigid plastics this is measured by a Rockwell hardness test. through an orifice. FORMING TECHNIQUE: A regimented process of steps that allow you to form a flat sheet into a desired shape. HEATING OVEN: The device used to heat up a plastic sheet to forming temperature. HEAT DISTORTION TEMPERATURE: This is the temperature at which a plastic will begin to distort as measured with test bars using a standard ASTM test method. FLOW CHARACTERISTICS: The ability of a heated plastic to pass through a die.Glossary of Terms FIBERGLASS: Fine strands of glass usually encapsulated within a resin matrix. GLASS TRANSITION TEMPERATURE: The temperature at which a rigid plastic softens enough to become somewhat rubbery. FLAMMABILITY: A measure of the extent to which a material will support combustion. GELS: Hard particles of resin that are similar to the plastic matrix they are in but because of their molecular or cross-linked nature. It can be used to make molds or structural parts. or over a mold in a smooth and uniform way to allow you to make a sheet or formed part. This system gives off both. Usually this type of oven is tightly zone-controlled to distribute heat to the desired areas. FORMING TEMPERATURE RANGE: The high and low points at which a plastic will be successfully shaped with the detail and dimensional tolerances required for an acceptable part. FOAM CORE MATERIALS: Materials that have gas expanded or air occupied structures between their solid exterior surfaces. will not blend in with the other plastic and will leave a tiny blip on the surface of the plastic sheet or part. If they are large enough they will show in the surface of the plastic part as the sheet is thinned out to form the part. HARDNESS: The property of a material that determines how rigid or resistant to denting a substance is. Expanded vinyl or polyethylene are good examples.

nichrome wire. MATERIALS: Plastic compounds used to construct useful shapes. HIGH IMPACT POLYSTYRENE: This is a resin composed of numerous styrene monomer molecules polymerized into long polymer chains and dispersed with soft rubber particles throughout the rigid polystyrene matrix. General types listed in this manual are: ceramic. IMPACT STRENGTH: The ability of a material to undergo a sudden shock without breaking. MALE MOLD: A protrusion extending out of a flat plane that is used to form hot plastic over. MATERIAL DISTRIBUTION: The process of stretching hot plastic over a mold and maintaining desired thicknesses in specific areas of the part. LOUVERS: Air or lighting vents designed into a plastic part. HEATER TYPES: These are the various types of elements that are used to heat up plastic sheet. catalytic gas. MELT TEMPERATURE (POINT): The temperature at which a polymer changes from a solid to a viscous liquid. and air convection. solar panel. Usually used in conjunction with pressure-forming to allow maximum clamping pressure. KORAD: An acrylic film used to hold color stability and UV degradation when laminated to plastic sheet. 110 . calrod. quartz. HYDRAULIC: A system of putting fluids under compression to move the platens on a thermoforming machine up and down. HOT STRENGTH: The resistance of a heated plastic sheet to being stretched into the shape of a mold. open flame gas. This can be tested in plastics via a notched izod or falling dart impact test through standard ASTM test methods.Glossary of Terms HEATING PROFILE: The pattern of heat being applied to a plastic sheet while it is enclosed within an oven so that the heat will be localized within the sheet and allow certain areas to stretch more than others during the forming process. HYGROSCOPIC: The characteristic within a plastic that gives it an affinity to pick up and retain moisture. MICRO-SWITCH: A device used to electrically stop a moving part on a machine in the same place consistently.

chemical resistance.5 seconds. PETG: A clear. NOTCH SENSITIVE: Most plastics exhibit a tendency to crack or break along a notch or scratch in the surface if an excessive bending stress is applied to that surface. NICHROME-WIRE HEATERS: A type of heater unit that resembles a wire in a toaster. say 15 seconds as 100%. OHMS PER SQUARE: The resistance to an electrical charge flowing across the same surface of a piece of plastic. impact resistance. With thermoplastic materials this condition causes the molecular structure of the plastic to be stressed more in one direction than the other.5 seconds and not allowing it to flow for 7. The typical shrinkage for ABS is . This value is usually expressed in inches per inch.001”.Glossary of Terms MOAT: A groove in a mold used to provide a good sealing point to prevent a plastic from breaking its vacuum bond with the mold as the plastic is shrinking during the cooling cycle. MOLD SHRINKAGE: The amount that the plastic part shrinks in relation to the actual mold size after the part is removed from the mold and has reached ambient air temperature. PHYSICAL TESTING: The process of measuring the characteristics of a material based on standard test methods. These properties can be tested and compared to other materials. MOLD BASE: The plane that a mold cavity or mold protrusion is mounted to that is used to seal off the hot plastic sheet during the vacuum part of the forming cycle. PHYSICAL PROPERTIES: Those characteristics that define the physical parameters of a material. It typically heats up to its maximum or cools off fairly quickly. OLEFINS: A group of unsaturated hydrocarbons of the general formula CnH2n. in which case it would be allowing a current to flow through a heating element for 7. 111 . such as stiffness. amorphous. etc. ORIENTATION: The alignment of polymer chains to create stress in a given direction. such as 50%. glycol-modified polyester which is polymerized from dimethyl ester or terephthalic acid and ethylene glycol. This gives it a better forming window than PET. Examples are polyethylene or polypropylene.006” ±. MOLD: (v) To shape a heated plastic sheet via heat and vacuum (pressure) into a desired geometry. This timer can then be set at a certain percent. PERCENTAGE TIMER: A timing device that has a total amount of set time. (n) The cavity or protrusion used to shape a heated plastic sheet into a desired shape. hardness.

PLASTIC SHEET: A flat piece of plastic having a specific length. POLYPROPYLENE: A thermoplastic material made by polymerization of propylene molecules. POLYCARBONATE/ABS: An alloy of the two different resins that will provide some unique physical properties depending on the mix of the two materials. themoplastic material made by the polymerization of the sytrene monomer. For example ethylene is polymerized into polyethylene through heat. 112 . PNEUMATIC: A system where a device is operated via the use of compressed air. amorphous. POLYSTYRENE: A clear. pressure and catalyzation. POLYETHYLENE: A thermoplastic material made by polymerization of ethylene molecules. POLYMER: A organic substance obtained by joining the same type of monomers into long chains. PLASTICIZER: A material that can be added to plastics that allow them to be processed more easily and can change certain of their physical characteristics such as toughness or flexibility.Glossary of Terms PIMPLE: A raised area on a sheet of plastic or plastic part caused by a hardened particle or contaminant within the matrix of the plastic substrate. thickness and texture. POLYMERIZE: The process of joining numerous like monomers into a long chain. PLUG ASSIST: A mechanical device used in thermoforming to help distribute the heated plastic sheet more uniformly before it actually seats on the mold. PLATEN: A movable support mechanism that a plug or mold is attached to that assists in forming a plastic part. A large range of polyethylenes can be made by varying the chain length and additives to the polymer. POLYESTER: A resin made via the reaction of a dibasic acid and a dihydroxy alcohol. It is used as a resin base to make structural parts. It is a clear. POLYCARBONATE: A polyester of carbonic acid produced by using an interfacial reaction between dihydric or polyhydric phenols and a suitable carbonate precursor such as dichlorocarbonate. amorphous material with good impact strength and a high heat distortion. width.

It is widely used in wire covering and where a chemically resistant plastic is needed. PUNCH PRESS STAMPING: The process of trimming a formed part by using a metal die clamped to a movable platen in a mechanical press. PRESSURE FORMING: A thermoforming technique whereby vacuum and pressure is used to force the hot plastic sheet against a mold surface to get a very crisp impression of that surface. RADIANT HEAT: An electromagnetic transfer of energy from a heating emitter to a material or body one would wish to raise the temperature of. 113 . REFLECTED OFF ENERGY: The small amount of radiant energy directed at a plastic sheet that is left over from the energy that penetrates through the sheet and is absorbed by the sheet. QUARTZ HEATERS: A type of heater with about a one-half to three-quarter inch diameter tube with a resistance wire inside of it that is backed up by an internal reflector. PROCESSING: The act of converting a plastic resin or sheet into a useful form or shape. PVC/ABS: An alloy of polyvinyl chloride and acrylonitrile butadiene styrene combined to maximize certain physical properties.Glossary of Terms PRESSURE BOX: The reinforced box that is draped over the mold in the pressure forming system to provide the added force required to get good detail from the mold surface. PVC/ACRYLIC: An alloy of polyvinyl chloride and acrylic combined to maximize specific physical properties. PROCESSOR: The entity that converts a plastic resin or sheet into a useful form or shape. RIBS: A raised or depressed area of a formed part that is designed into it to increase its structural integrity. PROTOTYPE MOLD: The mold that is used to make a part that will be evaluated for fit and function. RADII: The rounded edges or curvature of the shape being dealt with. PVC: An amorphous thermoplastic material made up of vinyl chloride polymers. REGRIND: The plastic materials that are reprocessed into plastic sheet or finished parts more than once. Typically these radii are designed into the part. Forcing the platen against a fixed base pinches the desired surface of the plastic part and removes the unwanted excess.

SECONDARY DRAW RATIO: After the initial thickness of plastic is determined on a formed part. then plunges a male mold into the inside of the bubble. This value is usually expressed in terms of flexural strength or flexural modulus. One side of the part is identical to the other side. such as trimming and assembly. SYMETRICAL: An object having a mirror image of itself with respect to its centerline. SAG BANDS: The supporting system that is attached to the clamping frame to obtain multiple minor sags when using a multiple cavity mold. vacuums the bubble onto the mold. STRESS: Pressure applied to a given body to deform or fracture it. SECONDARY OPERATIONS: Those processes that are performed after the initial forming operation is completed. the thickness of any secondary pockets or protrusions will be determined by the difference in thickness of the material now available divided by the area left over on the secondary area of the part. SHRINKAGE: The phenomenon whereby a plastic decreases in size linearly and volumetrically as it is cooled.Glossary of Terms ROBOTIC TRIMMING: A mechanized method of performing a secondary operation on a formed part to enable it to comply with dimensional specifications. SEAL: The edge of a mold base that a hot piece of plastic is forced against to keep the vacuum enclosed within the mold chamber while a part is being formed. SCREENING: The process of blocking out some radiant energy from reaching the plastic sheet suspended in an oven by putting in metal window screening between the plastic sheet and the heating elements used to heat the plastic. 114 . STIFFNESS: A measure of the flexibility or rigidity of a material. This term also refers to the inherent stress put into the extruded sheet during the manufacturing process. ROUTER: A high speed air or electrically operated cutting tool used to trim materials to dimensional specifications. SAG: The amount of spherical deflection a flat plastic sheet experiences as it is heated to its forming temperature. SANDBLAST: The process of forcefully blowing sand against an object to clean it or put a fine suede-looking surface on it. and as a final step. SNAPBACK: A thermoforming technique that first pre-forms a bubble into a pre-draw box.

115 .). THERMAL EXPANSION (Coefficient of): The fractional change in length (or volume) a one inch object will expanded or contract with a one degree Fahrenheit change in temperature. TRANSMITTED THROUGH: The condition where radiant energy given off an emitter goes through the object it is hitting rather than being absorbed or reflected off of that object. TENSILE STRENGTH: The pulling force required to stretch or break a given material. THERMOFORMING: A system of changing a flat sheet of plastic into a desired shape. THINNING: The process of taking a finite area of a hot sheet of plastic and stretching it over a protrusion or cavity of a larger area and distributing the plastic over this larger area as best as possible. In ABS this value is approximately 5 x 10-5 per inch per one degree Fahrenheit change in temperature. This material is used for clamping or sealing purposes during the forming process. TPO: Thermoplastic olefin. TEMPERATURE CONTROLLED ALUMINUM TOOLING: Molds made with enclosed tubes buried within their surfaces that allow cooled or heated water or some other fluid to flow through them to control the temperature of the mold to within a few degrees Fahrenheit. THERMOLATOR SYSTEM: A mechanical device that is used to regulate that temperature of a fluid that is subsequently pumped through heating or cooling lines embedded in a mold to control the mold temperature. This material is used for making insulative plugs to prevent chill marks. in one hour. TEXTURE (GRAIN): The pattern embedded into the surface area of a sheet or part. with one degree Fahrenheit temperature differential across the thickness (Btu/hr/ft2/F/in. This value is usually expressed in pounds per square inch. TRIM: The excess material around a formed part that is not part of the finished product. THERMAL CONDUCTIVITY: The amount of heat in BTUs which can be conducted through one square foot of any material one inch in thickness. Essentially it is a polypropylene blended with and EPDM rubber.Glossary of Terms SYNTACTIC FOAM: A combination of inorganic foam spheres in a plastic foam matrix. TOLERANCES: The maximum and minimum dimensions that are required to allow a formed part to be functional.

in this case plastic. WARPING: The condition whereby a part is dimensionally distorted from its originally formed shape. VACUUM SYSTEM: The mechanism whereby air is removed from an enclosed chamber to create a vacuum. 116 . VACUUM: The absence of atmospheric gas within some given system.Glossary of Terms UNDERCUTS: Those indentations or extensions from a formed part that prevent the part from being removed from the mold without providing some type of movable mechanism on the mold itself. Generally a large vacuum holding tank is employed to keep the inches of vacuum from being drawn down to low. WAVELENGTH: The distance measured from a point on an electromagnetic wave to the same point on the wave as it repeats its phase. VOIDS: Small areas within a plastic matrix that have gas pockets instead of the solid plastic material that should be there. It also refers to the level of vacuum that is maintained within the system. VACUUM FORMING TECHNIQUES: The various sequence of procedures one can use to shape a heated sheet of plastic to the configuration of a mold. VACUUM VOLUME: The size of the enclosed system in which the vacuum is employed. U V RESISTANT: The condition whereby a material. UNISTRUT: A U-shaped channel with a clamping bar inside of it that can be adjusted very quickly by sliding the clamping bar in either direction of the channel. VACUUM FORMING: A method of using vacuum to force heated plastic against a mold surface. in this case plastic. VACUUM SEAL: The edge around a mold base that the heated plastic sheet is pressed against to allow a vacuum to be drawn and force the heated sheet against the mold. will resist loosing its physical properties when exposed to the ultra-violet rays of the sun. VOLUME RESISTIVITY: The resistance of an electrical charge flowing through the solid structure of the material. VACUUM HOLES: The holes in a mold which air can pass through to allow the atmospheric pressure to force the hot plastic sheet against the mold. VACUUM BOX: A five-sided structure on which a heated plastic sheet can be draped over the sixth side and a partial vacuum drawn within the box to form an inverted bubble.

Its elasticity has been exceeded.Glossary of Terms WAVELENGTH OF ENERGY: A measure of the type of energy given from various wavelengths of the electromagnetic spectrum. It usually occurs on the corners of parts with small radii. 117 .7 microns to about 100 microns. WOOD TOOLING: Molds made of wood that are usually used to make prototype parts. WEATHERABLE PLASTICS: Those plastics that are resistant to physical degrading when exposed to the ultra-violet rays of the sun. WEBBS: Excess plastic material that is doubled up on itself and does not flow uniformly against a mold. YIELD POINT: That point of stress or strain which if reached will not allow the material to recover to its original shape. WEATHERABILITY: The ability of a material to resist loosing its physical properties when exposed to sunlight. In plastics we are concerned with the infrared wavelength band of about . ZONES: Those areas in a heating oven that the temperature is controlled independently from other areas.

57 bank. 31. 48. 65. 25. 4. 72 bubble. 56. 90 AIR CONVECTION. 4. 65. 5. 26 Coefficient of Thermal Expansion. 41. 25. 42. 5 clearance. 4. 4. 59. 93 calrod. 64 . 27. 92. 86. 8. 13. 43. 62. 6. 46. 96 ball radius. 90 commodity. 10. 58. 40 coefficient of thermal expansion. 61. 52. 19. 13. 59. 27 chemical reactor. 63. 47. 86 black body. 9. 88. 49. 24. 45 black panel. 95 clamping mechanism. 94 atmospheric pressure. 48. 45. 59. 83. 92. 45. 72. 22. 69. 77. 11. 33. 44. 43. 29. 7. 12. 49 billow. 49. 20. 36. 24. 73. 86. 69. 46. 90 chain drive. 61. 40. 50. 0. 60. 49 AES. 62. 51. 2. 90 carbon chains. 50. 62. 91. 51. 10. 85. 74 chemical attack. 47. 91 Chemical Resistance. 67. 86. 50. 64. 66. 54 chill marks. 3. 16. 93 aluminum. 69. 21. 85 air convection oven. 7 blisters. ii. 45. 91. 42. 32. 36. 7. 104 absorption. 57 chemical resistance. 46. 94. 12. 65 catalytic gas. 35. 63. 73. 27 banbury mixing. 21. 66. 60. 90 cavity. 9. 10. 93 ASA. 34 amorphous. 22. 95 ceramic. 66. 82. 23. 87. 55. 93. 54. 48. 95. 21. 2. 56. 45.Index ABS. 65. 45. 37. 47. 8. 34. 1. 11. 34. 88. 65. 35. 61 bridging. 3. 33. 94. 65. 16. 92. 38. 66. 1. 45. 61. 46. 11. 85. 36. 51 alloy. 85 bleed off. 58. 15. 91. 13. 65. 54 color. 48. 87 conductive. 85 air convection. 42. 35. 5. 38. 9. 85 assembly. 1. 6. 74. 57. 7. 34. 85. 37. 51. 38 aluminum tool. 96 butadiene. 60. 44.

31. 38 copolymer polypropylene. 34. 72. 5. 75. 43. 45. 48. 1. 50. 45. 7. 90. 33. 16. 56. 8. 29 die cutting. 94 elongation. 2. 44. 58. 8 convection. 38. 41. 80. 72. 56. 49. 37. 37 discoloration. 35 Flammability. 27. 59. 19. 38. 77. 88. 55. 57. 55. 3 drape forming bottom. 22. 19. 29. 47. 6. 26. 5. 31. 63. 30. 46. 71. 79. 5. 68. 2. 45 engineered plastic. 42. 55. 48. 35. 38. 33. 30. 78. 16. 69. 18. 31. 17. 53. 32. 57 electric eye. 28. 26. 29. 69 contoured.Index conductivity. 55. 13. 85. 62. 20. 40. 27. 22. 42 depth of draw. 80. 56. 54 119 . 77 embrittlement point. 34. 28. 5. 16 drape forming. 2. 79. 82 fabricated. 49. 44. 10. 63 cosmetic. 53. 31. 3. 52. 27 economical. 6. 38 cooling lines. 63 dimensional stability. 16. 87. 35. 87 dimensions. 47. 104 draw ratio. 3. 80 drape. 85 cooling. 42. 19. 53. 74. 79 durometer. 32 fiberglass. 60. 55. 6. 95 cooling cycle. 58. 32. 8. 33. 30. 31. 25 embossing. 71. 7. 56. 29. 34. 50. 33. 50. 17. 73 elements. 38 fabrication. 32. 91. 11. 62 emissivity. 43. 6. 85 cycle time. 3. 95 epoxy. 10. 81 cylinder. 45. 76 crystalline. 83. 2. 51 convective heat. 64 contactors. 82. 34. 63. 81 Design lines. 95 dimple. 46. 6. 62 entropy. 32. 73. 34. 44. 33. 65 EPDM. 78 draft. 15. 32. 67. 11. 6. 35. 30. 75. 50. 24 dimension. 23 female mold. 28.

65 hole drilling. 74. 12 Korad. 2. 97 heating profile. 9. 75. 16. 62. 66 louvers. 47. 81. 1. 62. 76. 89. 47. 23. 79. 63. 46. 48 geometry. 72. 61 ignition. 56 flow characteristics. 64 kiss-offs. 54 forming technique. 57. 71. 63. 49. 0. 37. 24. 82 forming temperature. 4 insulator. 48 impact strength. 75. 79. 51. 41 hydroscopic. 91 Hardness. 76. 51 Forming Range. 76. 7. 35. 76. 43. 35. 15. 68. 81. 21. 62. 51. 53 injection molding. 51 gluing. 36 low impact. 4. 69. 1. 48. 68. 11. 1. 90 material distribution. 89. 53 manual. 3. 23 hot strength. 67 High Impact Polystyrene. 2. 94 gas flame heating. 27. 57 machine cycles. 25. 57. 28. 2. 2. 60. 4. 77. 59. 45. 20. 56. 78. 92 heat sink. 5. 81. 3. 26 hardness. 21. 81. 73. 29. 79. 29. 79.Index flange. 52 heater. 40 gas regulator. 1 insert. 59. 58. 34 izod impacts. 23. 9. 72. 61. 13 gloss. 5. 83 hydraulic. 4. 5. 93 heating elements. 12. 66. 2. 55 HIPS. 6. 16. 53 heat distortion. 53. 25. 89. 12. 82. 54. 30 insulate. 11. 91 glass transition temperature. 47 high impact. 57. 58 foam core materials. 64. 8. 35. 92 Impact strength. 40. 45. 81 120 . 51. 8. 35. 62. 0. 1. 79. 51. 67. 74. 53 Heat Deflection. 32 iron. 60. 54. 68. 74. 69 heating oven. 10. 55. 36. 71. 40. 51. 91. 88.

4. 50. 94. 6. 23. 3. 50. 69. 91. 87. 48. 53. 1. 58. 87. 51. 27. 48. 6. 41. 92 plug assist. 64. 52. 73. 7. 36. 75. 38. 5. 3. 71. 10. 13. 86. 17. 50. 67. 76 pneumatic. 24. 63 olefin. 85. 81. 90. 60. 11. 5. 34. 18. 86. 15. 51. 62. 62. 38. 81. 8. 73. 37. 24. 23. 55. 24. 22. 77. 61. 63 Mold Shrinkage. 61 polyester. 92. 57. 78. 56. 15 mold shrinkage. 27. 3. 93. 78. 41. 93. 89. 87. 4. 56. 49. 6. 63. 23. 5. 60. 13. 62. 32. 83. 92. 5. 92. 55. 92 121 . 65. 80 moisture. 34 plastic matrix. 27 ohms per square. 26. 1. 57. 96. 82 part integrity. 35. 32. 7. 65. 51. 8. 2. 73. 32. 51. 73. 58. 19. 21. 77. 72. 44. 74. 4.Index materials. 77. 97 mold base. 51. 40. 66. 86. 51. 45. 11. 10. 27. 28. 40. 28. 5. 37. 3. 64. 86. 69 PETG. 59. 59. 96 plastic sheet. 32. 41. 16. 67. 56. 23. 1. 96 multiple parts. 35. 94. 85. 9. 35. 29. 3. 48. 36. 7. 41. 54. 90. 42. 62. 37 plaster. 92 physical properties. 8. 91 physical characteristics. 48. 10. 56. 62. 97 pimple. 2. 36. 66. 4. 53. 46. 26. 79. 11. 96 platen. 69. 48 part design. 76. 26. 41 moat. 3. 2. 32. 20. 8. 89. 79. 74. 69 notch. 4. 11. 72. 54 mold surface. 69. 40. 20. 18. 42. 33. 52. 75. 1. 10. 93. 31. 47. 92. 52. 42. 50. 3 nichrome wire. 93. 61. 95 percentage timer. 28. 53. 34. 57. 5. 94 mechanical. 34. 96. 1. 7. 12. 64. 63. 2. 61. 6. 51 mold. 91. 55. 88. 29. 91. 91. 75. 93. 32. 45. 45. 74. 47. 46. 31. 76. 80. 34. 72. 39. 96 mold flange. 38. 11. 33. 95 open flame. 93. 74. 39. 91 notch sensitive. 7. 56. 50. 28. 41. 10. 95 micro-switch. 85. 83. 40. 90 orientation. 66. 92. 20. 33. 74. 90. 40. 71. 19. 83 oxidation. 3. 12. 90 nichrome wire heaters. 82. 31. 93 plug. 41 polycarbonate. 53. 35. 44. 6. 10. 74. 95. 2. 90 moisture content. 54. 37 pattern. 3. 61. 11. 17. 71. 28. 89. 94. 9. 55. 76. 40. 31. 35. 88. 22. 88. 58. 4. 6. 66 polycarbonate/ABS. 58. 58. 4. 83. 23. 83. 30. 5. 56. 72. 59. 12.

54. 69 prototype. 56. 40. 55. 18. 81. 49. 81. 2. 91. 63. 49. 24. 20. 96. 68. 57. 11. 56. 94. 67. 82 sandblast. 4. 24 PVC. 85. 93. 85. 69. 10. 24 rotary thermoformer. ii. 53 router. 68. 74. 65. 91. 85. 41. 34. 8. 27. 46. 59 snapback. 91. 28. 35. 38. 13. 94 Screening. 32. 30. 11. 63. 11. 56 polymers. 73 122 . 43. 11. 52 seal. 82. 95 radiant heat. 90 radiant energy. 80 sandblasted. 85. 60. 56 screening. 11. 9. 65. 51 pressure box. 74. 35. 5. 87. 29. 90. 77 predrill. 86 polymerizing. 26. 27. 20. 73. 87. 37 secondary operations. 83 ribs. 95. 35. 95 polystyrene. 28.Index polyethylene. 23. 52. 56. 6. 36. 82. 91 secondary draw ratio. 93. 92 polymerize. 21. 63. 62. 10. 80. 6. 19. 62. 47. 47. 62. 68. 3. 18 smoke suppressant. 37. 76. 38. 48. 97 prototypes. 38 sag. 55. 90. 97 shrinkage. 8. 19. 41. 69. 59. 63. 80. 38. 81. 1. 55. 69. 44. 64. 1. 38. 52. 72. 11. 2. 91 single station. 40. 31. 11. 41. 13 shape. 76 robotic trimming. 51. 34. 72. 41. 57. 86 pressure forming. 54. 39. 58. 24. 46. 23. 39 set-up. 6. 56. 57. 5. 25. 36. 53. 5. 58. 93 processing. 10. 97 regrind. 26 pre-drying. 36. 82. 6. 30. 7. 93 polypropylene. 93 PVC/ABS. 53 Size. 88 processor. 80. 17. 60. 4. 55 polymer. 39. 15. 92 Polyethylene. 16. 59. 89 radii. 5. 47. 74. 57. 61. 22. 35. 7. 89. 53 single station machine. 66. 3. 74. 88. 37. 89. 24. 81. 23. 41. 82. 79. 36. 22. 93. 7. 79. 31. 22. 45. 39 punch press. 66 quartz. 90 predraw. 91. 55. 34. 38. 47. 9. 72. 23.

28. 49 symmetry. 53 texture. 93. 5. 4. 73. 21 ultra-violet. 89 TPO. 56. 54. 94 temperature controlled aluminum tooling. 61. 31. 22. 56 testing methods. 55. 78. 18. 6. 29. 94. 44. 35. 8. 1. 2. 44. 39. 41. 39. 20. 53. 57. 24. 92 thermal. 80. 48. 32. 37. 11. 36. 25. 3. 38. 61. 36. 23. 18. 53 spherical shape. 94 trimming. 31. 58. 37. 5. 68. 11. 2. 29. 36. 34. 8. 53 stress. 79. 38 temperature-controlled tool. 55. 31 technique. 2 twin sheet. 12. 52. 64. 29. 94. 77. 81. 22. 28. 41. 29. 27. 33. 33. 61. 26. 24. 93 surface finish. 96. 67. 75. 96 vacuum box. 23. 8. 30. 78 thermolator system. 83.Index solar panel. 15. 6. 9. 55. 45 trim. 2. 36. 7. 5. 61. 10. 30. 61. 69 tolerances. 54 thermal expansion. 95 transmitted through. 10. 17. 72. 46. 40. 93. 1. 17 static dissipative. 52. 88. 0. 35. 1. 56. 34. 16. 56. 52. 44. 31. 6. 2. 19. 4. 71. 37. 67 123 . 3. 80 unistrut. 3. 83. 38. 63 vacuum forming. 23. 78. 3. 49 solvent. 78. 63 vacuum. 76. 94 trolley. 97 structural integrity. 51. 64. 74. 63. 59 spacer block. 2. 77. 53. 36. 53. 12. 91. 35. 26. 72. 82. 31. iii. 51. 4. 20. 53. 64. 68. 47. 17. 11. 67. 52. 4. 39. 75. 91. 43. 30. 31. 11 Specific gravity. 40 trouble shooting. 91 Stiffness. 62. 87. 5. 22. 6. 38. 54. 12. 49. 22. 77. 9. 87 timers. 83. 23. 20. 19. 45. 49. 74. 63 UV resistant. 36. 28. 21. 7. 33. 23. 24. 77 switches. 16. 12. 38 thinning. 2. 30. 7. 35. 31. 63. 36. 71. 40. 7. 24. 41. 64 stiffness. 3. 93. 13. 1. 97 undercuts. 17. 60. 42 urethane. 57. 86. 29. 24 thermoforming. 20. 21. 14. 2. 1. 41. 11. 56. 5. 62. 29. 16. 82. 26 Thermal Conductivity. 33. 26. 73. 75. 49. 8. 37. 58. 9. 27. 65. 27. 74.

63 warping. 33. 38. 88. 34. 72. 50. 78. 31. 33. 44 volume. 82 zone. 32. 63. 49. 32 yield point. 2 vacuum volume. 23. 39. 44. 34. 38. 35. 52. 32. 58. 47. 20. 36 webbing. 44.Index vacuum holes. 47. 4. 13 vents. 87 wood. 26. 2. 80 124 . 7. 10. 79 wavelength. 97 weatherable plastics. 35. 26. 82. 29. 35. 25. 35. 42. 8. 46. 32. 44. 85. 41. 45. 97 Wood. 43. 32. 80 water lines. 42. 35. 37 vacuum system. 31 wood tooling. 95 warp. 88 web. 37 vaporization point. 90 voltage input. 14. 52 venting holes. 48. 79. 49. 89 zones. 52. 33.

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